Ghostbusting, World War 2 style...
The Awakening (2011)
Nick Murphy, Nick Murphy, Nick Murphy
Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Rebecca Hall, Dominic West
Refreshingly, it’s the drama which is more effective here than the somewhat deliberate scares
In the wake of the First World War and a time of ghosts, Florence Cathcart (Hall) has her own reasons for revealing the charlatans who profit from the grief of those left behind. When she gets an unusual request for help from a war damaged History teacher at an isolated school (West) she has to face the possibility of a real haunting.
The Awakening comes to screens from writer/director Nick Murphy, who is making his feature directing debut after TV work such as Primeval and Occupation. The posters and subject of the story naturally bring to mind the Guillermo del Toro produced The Orphanage but there’s a deeper story here that doesn’t just focus on creeps.
Florence has her own motivations in proving that the dead to not return to haunt the living and her losses in the war mean she forms a near instant bond with West’s guilt-ridden Robert. She’s also keen to ease the suffering of the boys who live at the school, some of whom are orphans like herself who are being terrorised by the ghost of a faceless young boy.
The Awakening comes from an unusual perspective for a ghost story. Our heroine begins the film unfazed by apparently supernatural events, revelling in her ability to see through an opening séance. Later, she approaches the investigation into the events at the house in a scientific fashion, using early 20th century tools to trap the people behind what she imagines to be tricks.
Regardless of the leads collected attitude, the filmmakers still play with the audience in much the way we’ve come to expect from the genre, slow, creeping camera work intercut with glimpses of something more sinister and loud cues on the soundtrack. It’s more subtle than some and there are certainly some jumps to be found here, particularly as the narrative progresses and Florence’s certainty starts to waver.
Refreshingly, it’s the drama which is more effective here than the somewhat deliberate scares. The characters are well drawn and the finale doles out significant revelations in a way which rarely leaves the audience too confused. It helps that the cast are a cut above that of a regular horror story. Hall builds on her previous supporting roles with an impressive lead – more schoolteacher than scream queen and looking perfectly suited to the period. West is clipped and cautious, with the odd dry humour and some hidden pain while there’s brilliant support from the versatile Imelda Staunton. It’s a small cast but they bring the isolated, period world to life.
The limited location is suitably oppressive and expertly lensed by the masterful Eduard Grau (who shot Buried and A Single Man) with an eye for convoluted architecture and grainy shadows that turn the world into a near monochromatic maze of potential hiding places.