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Movie Review: The Awakening
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The Awakening Movie Poster

The Awakening
DIRECTOR: Nick Murphy
WRITERS: Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy
STARRING: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Cal Macaninch, Shaun Dooley
BBC Films
RELEASE DATE: August 17, 2012 (limited)

As a lover of all types of horror movies, and especially of a good ghost story, I was excited to check out The Awakening, the new thriller from director Nick Murphy, who’s making his feature debut.

The movie follows Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), a paranormal hoaxes author and true skeptic in a devastated post World War I England who’s firmly set on revealing the real cause of paranormal occurrences, whether they be scientific or man made trickery. Clearly battling some of her own demons, Florence is one day visited by Robert Mallory (Dominic West), who claims that there have been many sightings of a child ghost at the boarding school he teaches at. At first she shrugs him off, offering a simple explanation for his problem, but when he rebukes them all and clarifies that this isn’t about finding a ghost but calming the fears of the boys who attend the school, she decides to help.

Upon arriving Florence investigates around a bit and sets up her many complex tests, which leads to what appears to be a resolution. But when strange things continue to happen and she sees things she cannot explain, everything Florence has so strongly believed in will be tested.

For the most part, I was pleased with The Awakening. I’ve always been both a skeptic of the paranormal and yet still incredibly fascinated by the unexplainable. If there’s a TV show where teams set off to investigate mysterious happenings, I’ve probably watched and have been entertained by it despite knowing most are put on for theatrics and not to present legitimate investigation.

There’s some early scenes in the movie that are very cool because they play out almost like those very same TV shows, only set in 1921 England and using the far less evolved technologies of that time. However, though some would have probably enjoyed the movie if it stayed on the path following a skeptic disproving all paranormal claims, this is a ghost story at heart…and ghosts there shall be.

When we get to the real hauntings, there’s pros and cons to be had. The Awakenings does suffer from those cheesy CGI ghost scares you find jam-packed into PG-13 kiddie horror flicks, but they come in small doses, so it’s not too damaging to the overall movie. To counteract that, there’s also a fair share of smart, well-shot scares that are effective in creeping you out. At times it reminded me of Guillermo del Toro’s incredible ghost tale, The Devil’s Backbone, while at other times it was far from it.

If I were to complain about anything it would be, as always seems to be the case when it comes to horror/thrillers, the ending. Nothing is harder in filmmaking than closing out a horror film—even the most brilliant of concepts require closure—and finding a way to wrap everything up is more tricky than it sounds. This is because almost everything has been (or feels like it has been) done before, and it’s very rare to find a truly fresh and unique start-to-finish horror story.

While the early 20th century ghost hunting techniques are an original and enjoyable addition to the story, the majority of The Awakening doesn’t feel like something you’ve never seen before. This is then magnified by the ending, which almost felt to me like the filmmakers weren’t quite sure how to bring it all together, ultimately deciding to go with the always risky twist ending. Obviously I’m not going to spoil what happens, but it’s not exactly what I would call satisfying. Perhaps if other movies with similar twists were never made it would be much more effective here, but you’re not likely to be shocked by what unfolds, unfortunately.

Still, The Awakening is a movie I think fans of ghost stories could find enjoyable. The ending isn’t what I wished it would be, but the movie as a whole has a solid story, some spooky scares, strong acting all around, and a dark and beautiful old England setting to help enhance everything.


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