The Awakening is one hundred percent English, like cricket or afternoon tea with strawberry jam, thick cream and scones. Currently an English film either does extremely well or dies a quiet and dismal death. This film appears to be smack in the middle with a very poor audience reception, the tally cannot be fully counted as the film is still being released in other countries throughout 2012. It is all the more puzzling since the film opened at the Toronto Film Festival to mostly positive reviews. Amazingly this three million pound film, has not done well, pulling in a fraction of its production cost.
Nick Murphy directed and co-wrote the film with Stephen Volk and it is the first feature film helmed by Murphy (who has a long pedigree directing television programmes). British actress Rebecca Hall, perhaps more familiar to film goers as Emily Wotton in the film Dorian Gray, is an excellent actress who is moving up in the cinema world. She is currently working on the next instalment of the Iron Man series Iron Man 3. Imelda Staunton gives a splendid performance as Maud the eccentric housekeeper. Dominic West is brilliant as the traumatized, wounded ex-army teacher in the boarding school. Especially notable is Joseph Mawle as the school gardener/caretaker (he can currently be seen in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as Thomas Lincoln) never has one actor exuded so much menace and downright nastiness. The real surprise is Isaac Hempstead Wright. This young actor gave a faultless performance as the young school boy Tom in his first ever film performance.
Preface – The year is 1921 and the world is still reeling from the deaths caused by the ‘War to end all wars’ and from the Spanish influenza outbreak of 1918. In England where the religion of Spiritualism has always been quite popular, the amount of people who wanted to get in touch with their deceased loved-one rose to almost fever pitch. This lead to “easy pickings” for the charlatan mediums of the time.
The “Reader’s Digest” version of the plot is as follows: Famous Ghost ‘debunker’ Florence Cathcart spectacularly halts a seance in mid flow to reveal that the whole thing is a sham. Florence is not popular with the gullible victim and we see that this debunking business is quite hard on her psychologically. She has had a book published and this combined with her debunking work has made her a minor celebrity. Florence is approached by teacher Robert Malory from Rookford boy’s boarding school. He want’s Florence to come and debunk the ghost of a boy who was murdered back when the school was a private residence. Malory informs Florance that a boy has just recently died as a result of seeing the ghost. He also mentions that the housekeeper Maude, who has been with the school since it’s inception is a big fan of Florence’s and does not believe in ghosts.
Arriving at the school Florence meets the creepy grounds keeper Edward Judd, Maude (her number one fan), the headteacher and Freddie Strickland (another teacher at the school). After interviewing the students and the staff, Florence decides to accept the job and sets out her antique ghost-buster equipment throughout the school. She discovers who is responsible for the ‘hauntings’ and successfully debunks the school ghost. Things then take a harsh turn to the left and it seems that Florence has not debunked anything at all.
The overall mood and atmosphere of this film did not feel like your bog standard horror or ghost film. It affects you in a different way. My daughter, who watched the film with me, kept breaking out in goose flesh and I could not tear my eyes from the screen. The film almost feels like a drawing room mystery, but at the same time, it doesn’t. I kept thinking that this was a Miss Marple of the ghost world only to have that thought quashed by what was happening on the screen. Rarely have I watched a film that had such an impact.
When I checked on IMDb for the budget and box office figures, I was dumbfounded by the amounts I was confronted with. I just don’t understand it.
This film is easily on par with The Others, even though the films are really nothing alike. Both films though have the power to drag you into their worlds and leave you gasping when you get to the end.