Review: The Awakening

It took a little while for this film to hit theaters near me and when I finally saw showtimes listed at my local theater, I was pretty pumped to get to see this.  I’m a fan of Rebecca Hall, the star of The Awakening, and was excited by the prospect of her playing in my favorite genre sandbox, horror.  Plus, the trailer was pretty solid and looked to offer a fun and creepy period film.

Hall plays Florence Cathcart, a woman who has dedicated her career to debunking supernatural events and exposing them as hoaxes.  The story takes place in London in 1921 at a boy’s boarding school.  The headmaster, played by Dominic West, has brought Florence to the school to help dispel a ghost that all the boys have been seeing and are deathly afraid of.  Florence, who only believes in science, sets up her equipment to find the person behind these ghostly pranks and before long begins to realize there may be something else at play at the boarding school.

Going into this, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, though I was very hopeful.  With The Woman In Black, another early 1900s horror story from earlier this year, we got an atmospheric ghost tale that entertained but didn’t do much else.  With The Awakening, I was pleasantly surprised at how character driven it was and really loved how the movie was doing more than just trying to create atmosphere and scares.  There are some really cool ideas and themes running throughout The Awakening, even if they aren’t necessarily fully formed or executed as well as they should be.  I absolutely loved the reason why Florence disproves the supernatural.  It’s not from a place of curiousity or that she even enjoys doing her job necessarily, it’s because of her inherent flaw to not be able to live with fear.  This flaw is how she has ended up alone and continues to push people away from herself.  She may receive momentary satisfaction from disproving something but it’s always followed by regret and further isolation from the human race.  I love the idea that she doesn’t do it because she wants to, she does it because she’s broken.

Rebecca Hall and Dominic West give great understated performances in the film and Nick Murphy, who makes his feature film writing/directing debut, shows that he’s got some talent and potential for some great work.  The cinematography of the film is really good and provides plenty of atmospheric beauty.  The sound and score all really help create a somber tone to the film, which helps play up the themes of loneliness and isolation.  I can’t say that The Awakening is outright scary but it has its moments.  The film has some flaws, one being an ending that feels a little convoluted.  It all makes sense in the end but I feel it could have been done in a better way to make it flow with the creeping tension of the rest of the film.  There are also a few things in the movie that don’t fit so well together or don’t make sense as to why they are in the story but the positives definitely outweigh those flaws.

The main reason why The Awakening works for me is because the horror story acted as a reflection of the characters and motifs of the film.  I really like when horror is used in that way.  I love Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone for that same reason and it makes me happy when there is a horror film of substance to combat the stereotype that horror films are shallow entertainment.  Don’t get me wrong, I like horror films of all kinds and of varying substance but it often feels like there are less produced that convey ideas and explore characters than there are ones made for pure entertainment.  This year’s horror offerings haven’t really made much of an impact on me, with exception to Cabin in the Woods, so I was pleasantly surprised with The Awakening.  It may be flawed, but it is among my favorite of the horror releases so far this year.

by Ben McBride

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2 Comments on “Review: The Awakening”

  1. Tim The Film Guy September 8, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    Still need to watch this, glad you thought it was good 😀

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Blu-ray Crypt – Jan. 29 | Monster Popcorn - January 29, 2013

    […] at using horror as a means of character reflection and thematic exploration (you can read my review here).  Plus, it stars the lovely Rebecca Hall and the talented Dominic West, both of which give some […]

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