09 November, 2011

The Awakening 

Director: Nick Murphy - Runtime: 107 mins

Review by Dan Collacott 

Us Brits love a period drama, the decadence of a society with all its manners, values and a fresh pot of tea with scones has become a national draw. The traditional ghost story is a cherished part of our past and with a 1921 post war setting, horror thriller The Awakening is a welcome change from the loud gore and high concept brutal torture flicks of recent times.

Troubled hoax exposer and author Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is drawn from her London home to a boarding school in the country by teacher and ex army man Robert Mallory (Dominic West). Cathcart is charged with the task of dispelling the paranormal myth around a recent child's death, bringing fact and reason where fear and anxiety have taken hold. Her own bereavement and the weight of her surrounds and situation cloud her judgement as it proves the school has more than smoke, mirrors and ghostly suggestion at its cold heart.

Director Nick Murphy has deftly put together a psychological period suspense thriller very much in the mould of The Others and The Orphanage. More importantly it is a classic ghost story that builds the tension in subtle layers rather than bludgeoning its audience with gore and cheap jump gimmicks. Murphy certainly knows how to scare though - weaving some chilling set pieces subtly into the film's polite narrative. The scenes featuring Florence looking through the windows of the model school doll's house had my heart climbing out of my chest!The whole picture is beautifully shot, benefiting greatly from the lush aesthetics of the 1920s countryside and Gothic architecture of the boarding school at the heart of the picture. The highly emotive themes of loss and loneliness work to suppress the more predictable and cliche elements that surface towards the end of the film. 

The performances of Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton are highly accomplished and the scripting tight. My only criticism is some of the plot elements didn't sit well together, the mix of science, scepticism and paranormal meant that Murphy struggled to bring a balanced end to proceedings. In fact I felt like I was seeking out one last cruel twist of fate before the credits rolled.


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