8 out of 10
“The Awakening” is a British gothic ghost story directed by Nick Murphy and is easily the best ghostly tale since Juame Balguero’s “Fragile” which I enjoyed for it’s conviction and story. There is very simply much to like in Murphy’s tale of a paranormal debunker in post WW1 England played by the beautifully talented Rebecca Hall. The film also stars Dominic West (300, The Phantom Menace) as a WW1 vet who becomes an assistant dean at an all boys boarding school in the country which used to be a private home. Rest assured in proper gothic manner the house is imposing, eerie and menacing solely due to the fantastic camera work by DP Eduard Grau (Buried)
At the film’s start it is established that Florence (Hall) has a passion for debunking charlatans during seances. She is manically insistent that they be arrested and put away for fooling gullible persons who have lost loved ones. Though she is tough she has a vulnerable interior and has a frail personality. Hall does a commendable job at showing us both sides as they grow into conflict as the story progresses. After Robert (West) visits her to ask for her help to tackle a mystery at the boarding school is when the film takes a very interesting and engaging turn. Florence with the help of the mysterious house lady Maud, incorporates herself into the populace of the school which includes several scared boys and one in particular named Tom who is taken with Florence and her investigation into the “ghost boy” who is said to be lurking the cold and remote mansion. Imelda Stauton (Dr Who, Harry Potter) gives a very terse and proper performance as Maud that is earnest and sad. She knows many things about the house and the boys that could change what the outcome of Florence’s investigation may reveal. She watches on as Florence utilizes the techniques of the day for “ghostbusting” (which is wildly interesting) and she observes how Florence becomes obsessed with finding this strange boy even after she has debunked some bad behaviors from some of the schoolboys who had taken a prank too far. Robert also is witness to her behavior and starts to protect her from herself.
Suffice it to say, apart from the great cinematography and eerie music that is haunting and simplistic, the film is a slow burn that reveals twist upon twist that is satisfying and believable. Especially as the complex association between the mysterious Tom, Flo and Maud is revealed. And the revelations come slowly and without warning. There is a off center and distracting sub plot involving a maintenance worker that is useless and goes nowhere but that is nitpicking. I was reminded very much of “The Others” and some other eerie British productions like the 1989 TV mini-series “The Woman in Black” and Del Toro’s “The Devil’s Backbone”. This film is quite enjoyable and not at all flashy and loud much like some US productions about ghosts. With the exception of Ti West’s “The Innkeepers.” So get comfy and pull up your blanket on a rainy night and get ready to dig “The Awakening” Recommended!