The Awakening FILM REVIEW
Haunted school horror passes the test
Release Date: 11 November 2011
15 * 106 minutes
Director: Nick Murphy
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Joseph Mawle, Isaac Hemstead-Wright
“This is a time for ghosts,” reads the caption at the start of post-war chiller The Awakening. It’s 1921, and between them The Great War and a flu epidemic have wiped out over 1.5 million people in the preceding five or six years, leaving Britain grieving and superstitious. This enjoyable slow-build shiverer provides further evidence that today is a time for ghosts too, what with supernatural scarers Lake Mungo and Ti West’s forthcoming The Innkeepers breaking away from boring gore, and Paranormal Activity 3 usurping the Saw franchise’s coveted Halloween slot.
Featuring Rebecca Hall as a sceptic drafted in to investigate strange occurrences in a countryside school after one of the young pupils is found dead, The Awakening is a classy old-fashioned ghost tale in the tradition of The Turn Of The Screw. It’s an assured first feature from Primeval alumnus Nick Murphy, with a confident, austere palette of greens and greys lending a pervasive feeling of sadness to the escalating tension.
Hall is feisty and formidable (at least in the first half) as a woman on a mission to disprove the existence of ghosts, channelling the gumption and resourcefulness of a young Jessica Fletcher. Dominic West’s stiff-jawed war hero, running the school with stoic housekeeper Imelda Staunton, provides a foil and a love interest for the increasingly fraught Hall as the evidence of creepy goings on becomes more and more difficult to disprove… or so it would seem. Nothing is quite as it appears in The Awakening, with red herrings and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it clues coming thick and fast.
While The Awakening isn’t wildly original, it is at least aware of the company it keeps, making direct reference to classics such as The Changeling. It’s a consistent and carefully constructed yarn that invites a second viewing. Sadly the final revelation is something of a stretch and relies heavily on clumsy exposition, while the scares, though effective in themselves, are repetitive and signposted.
Still, Murphy’s one to watch, and so is The Awakening, should you be looking for a change of pace and an entertaining spook-out. Better still, wait for the DVD and stick it on at Christmas – this feels like fireside fodder through and through.