a review by Elizabeth Vinton
As a fervent lover of old school British Ghost stories, I was very excited to be watching The Awakening – and I wasn’t disappointed.
Set in England in the early 1920’s, the age of ‘Spiritualism’, published author Florence Cathcart is dedicated to exposing frauds who pray upon those who have lost a loved one and seek reunion with their spirit.
Not all she seeks to help are happy with the results, and it is clear that her mission is taking a toll on her, her own grief for someone she lost a personal daily struggle.
Just as Florence decides to take a break from her investigations, she is approached by a teacher from a boys boarding school, Robert Malory, with a grim story to tell of a haunting that is frightening the boys in the extreme, and in one case, to death.
Naturally with some hesitation she takes on the case and goes on a journey of fear, loss, loneliness, heartbreak, violence and love.
I would not classify The Awakening as a Horror film – whilst the occasional moments of violence are brief and very shocking, they are not gory or exploitative. I would consider it a supernatural drama/thriller.
Setting the story in the 20’s, at a time where the populace were obsessed with spirits and the afterlife was a stroke of genius, and again this is a very classic ghost story, in a period setting that the BBC do so well, such as The Woman in Black. This is a traditional haunting, different from the newer (and very clever) modern haunting through new technologies, these ghosts exist on the edge of your sight sharing for a moment the same space as you.
The very human horrors alongside that of a supernatural threat gives the story great pathos, and I will warn you, tears as you experience the characters paths is very likely.
The boarding school is a character in and of itself, and with only music and brilliant cinematography to support it. The building from first glance is not stunning or majestic, but brooding, cold and lonely – a sense of dread pervades. Scenes in rooms empty but for scraps of furniture, with peeling walls and small windows add to the atmosphere.
The cast is wonderful, The Awakening is a movie where you can honestly say there was a team effort in bringing across the emotional and very cathartic aspects of the plot. It was wonderful to see Imelda Staunton again, her character was underplayed and very memorable. Rebecca Hall (Florence) and Dominic West (Robert) are very classic heroes of the piece, and worked together well.
The children are amazing, there is something about a group of English boys growing up in an isolated castle of a school that evokes a deep feeling of claustrophobia and repression. Events involving some of the children featured are very heartbreaking.
If you enjoyed classic ghost story films such as The Others, or The Orphanage, you will enjoy The Awakening – it is not very original, but it is not meant to be, just a classic ghost story told very well through great actors and amazing visuals.
The Awakening © 2011 / STUDIOCANAL – BBC – All Rights Reserved