out of Five
Running time: 107
With echoes of The Orphanage and The Others, this is an enjoyably creepy ghost story heightened by a terrific central performance from Rebecca Hall, though it's slightly let down by an exposition heavy script and a disappointing finale.
What's it all about?
Directed by Nick Murphy, The Awakening is set in 1921 and stars Rebecca Hall as hoax-debunking author Florence Cathcart, who's developed a reputation for exposing fake psychics and spiritualists who prey on the bereaved in post-war London. When schoolmaster Robert Mallory (Dominic West) asks her to investigate spooky goings-on at Rockwood boys' boarding school in the country, Florence is naturally sceptical, but she's intrigued by the stories of a ghostly presence and determines to uncover what's really going on.
It's a treat to see Rebecca Hall finally handed a lead role and she duly obliges with a terrific performance that's utterly gripping to watch; Florence is a fascinating, well-rounded character but she's also intriguingly flawed (witness her willingness to spy on a naked
Mallory) and we fear for her as we suspect her deeply held convictions are about to receive a rude awakening. There's also strong support from West (though the supposed romance doesn't really convince), Joseph Mawle (as a creepy handyman with a grudge against Mallory) and Isaac Hempstead Wright as a lonely young boy left behind during the school holidays, while Imelda Staunton contributes a nicely understated performance as the school's matron.
Murphy builds an effectively creepy atmosphere throughout and stages several impressive shock moments, as well as developing a strong sense of mystery. As a result there are deliberate echoes of several similar films ranging from The Orphanage to The Others and The Sixth Sense as well as harking back to classics such as The Innocents. In addition, the film is handsomely shot, courtesy of cinematographer Eduard Grau and there's a superb score from Daniel Pemberton.
The main problem with the film is that the finale gets bogged down in weighty exposition instead of ratcheting up the scare factor, while the epilogue feels like something of a cop-out and is disappointing as a result (it smacks a little of a studio-imposed rewrite).
Effectively creepy rather than out-and-out scary, The Awakening is nonetheless an enjoyable, well made ghost story that succeeds thanks to a terrific performance from Rebecca Hall. Worth seeing, though not destined for classic status.
The Awakening (15)