THE AWAKENING (15): On General Release Friday 11th November
Just once in a movie, it’d be nice if the sceptic was right. Sadly that film isn’t The Awakening which starts with professional 1920s mythbuster Florence Cathcart disrupting the spooky chicanery of a fake séance only for her later adventures to prove to be predictably supernatural.
Florence meets schoolmaster Robert Mallory (Dominic West) and he implores her to come and visit Rockwood Boys boarding school where there have been some odd occurrences. A boy has died in mysterious circumstances and several of the pupils claim to have seen a ghostly child roaming the halls at night.
Florence grabs her equipment and heads off to the country, determined to find a more rational explanation for the things that have been going bump in the night.
The script gives the characters good psychological reasons to be “haunted” by their pasts: Mallory feels guilty about surviving the war when none of his comrades came back alive; Florence is troubled by thoughts of a lover she once abandoned. But as soon as it’s revealed that she was summoned the school at the behest of housekeeper Maud (Imelda Staunton – creepier due to her previous role as Harry Potter’s Delores Umbridge), things start to go a bit wrong.
Florence’s natural scepticism obviously proves unfounded and the appearances of the ghostly skew-faced child makes The Awakening start to feel incredibly familiar – obvious comparisons to The Sixth Sense, The Others or the far superior The Orphanage will be inevitable. Predictability isn’t its only problem. All the suspense is wasted on a disappointing ending which neatly ties up all loose ends and leaves no room for ambiguity.
Nick Murphy effectively marshals the atmosphere creating a film which is creepy but never actually terrifying, although there are a couple of well-orchestrated shocks which come out of nowhere. There’s also a strong mystery element as we’re drawn along with Florence to find out exactly what’s going on.
It’s great to see Rebecca Hall handed a lead role finally. She’s been a solid supporting actress for years and has a chameleonic knack of blending into the background (although she has the most interesting mouth in Hollywood Here she doesn’t disappoint, delivering a confident performance as Florence, intelligent and independent in a male-dominated world that gives no quarter to a thinking woman while also being believably flawed.
The Awakening is a solid, if unremarkable mystery-thriller with a stand-out performance from Rebecca Hall. It’s just a shame that it brings nothing new to the table and despite a promising start seems content to recycle ideas from other more successful films in the same genre.
if you’re not familiar with Rebecca Hall, it’s time to swot up. Our guide to her rising star.