by Jayden Leggett, Assistant Editor
Wake up and smell the afterlife…
Directed by Nick Murphy (The Story of 1, Manor House), The Awakening begins with a very creepy setup, as the viewer is thrown right into the middle or some kind of ritual that involves communicating with the dead and the sacrifice of animals. Initially this scene made me worry that this movie was going to be another over-the-top supernatural scare-fest, but thankfully this was not the case. Before any animals are brought to their untimely end, a woman disrupts the ceremony, and reveals the whole thing to be a hoax. Thus we are introduced to the character of Florence Cathcart (played by Rebecca Hall – The Town, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and learn of her motives: she is an atheist who’s goal in life is apparently to dispel hoaxes and debunk any myths relating to the supernatural.
Cathcart is approached in her home by Robert Mallory (in an outstandingly excellent role played by Dominic West – The Wire, 300), a history master at a boarding school for boys who wants her to investigate the recent death of one of the students as the school’s staff and students feel that he was the victim of an angry spirit. Cathcart naturally dismisses this at first, but after being exposed to some photographic evidence and emotional prodding provided by Mallory, she decides to take on the job. Cathcart explores the school, questioning it’s (living) inhabitants and setting up all sorts of funky paranormal investigative tools. Naturally enough, as she delves deeper into the mysteries of the school, some genuinely unsettling and incomprehensible events take place within the school’s walls. Creepy highlights include Cathcart’s differential thermometer picking up a dramatic shift in temperature as multiple magnetic devices all suddenly point to one section of the room, and a sinister dollhouse containing dolls in posed scenarios that are much too reminiscent of the events that are unfolding around Cathcart…
Several aspects of this film greatly appealed to me. First of all, thanks to the opening sequence in which Cathcart debunked what was initially seemingly the film’s portrayal of a supernatural phenomenon, added to the sometimes mysterious mental state and motivations of Cathcart, I found myself question all of the “spooky” things that happened during this movie. Is the school actually haunted? Was that freaky-child with a blurred face an actual ghost, or one of the students playing a prank, or instead Cathcart’s seemingly fragile state of mind playing tricks on her? Secondly, almost every main character in the film (be it the school’s headmaster, the matron, a teacher or even some of the students themselves) is surrounded by a rather large element of mystery and intrigue. What is this person hiding? Could any of these people murdered the boy? Exactly what forces are at play here? All of these were questions I was constantly asking as I was actively engaging with the narrative events as they played out.
Cast performances were great, with Rebecca Hall doing a great job of playing the hardened skeptic who for the first time finds herself being truly afraid (and her nude bath seem definitely didn’t hurt things either!) However the stand-out role belongs to Robert Mallory, who’s naturalistic performance as a stuttering veteran of the war all but stole the spotlight.
Excellent use of brooding orchestral music and well thought-out cinematography combined with long sequences of Cathcart slowly exploring the hallways provide scenes of genuine suspense and tension that were very engaging, without dragging on for too long or becoming boring. Never did the film degrade into shoddy, B-grade horror fare, instead taking a deliberately slow-moving style that results in the viewer becoming completely absorbed in the narrative events that are taking place. My only complaint is that in certain sequences there are high levels of film grain which I found to be somewhat distracting (but then again I am a perfectionist so niggly little aspects like that probably won’t affect the majority of viewers). Special features include interviews with cast and crew, deleted scenes, question and answer sections, behind the scenes footage and more.
The Awakening is an intelligent and immensely engaging supernatural thriller, and the twist at the end (while initially shocking and confusing) pieces together all of loose ends nicely, and in a similar vein to The Sixth Sense, makes you want to re-watch the film with your new knowledge of the surprise reveal. Those who are sick of typical blood and guts gore fest horror movies will be pleasantly surprised by The Awakening.
ComicsOnline gives The Awakening 4 out of 5 freaky blur-faced ghost children.
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