Film Review: ‘The Awakening’


Ghost stories are wonderfully appropriate at this time of year and The Awakening (2011) by Nick Murphy provides an excellent, atmospheric, and chilling tale to do the trick, with a superb cast boasting The Wire’s Dominic West, Red Riding’s Rebecca Hall and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake [2004]).

Following the First World War, the country is thrown into shock with the death of millions, bereft many turned to the supernatural for comfort. Yet for the widow Florence Cathcart (Hall) the supernatural provides no comfort. Angered at the charlatans who claim to contact the dead for a price, Cathcart has perused a career as an investigative journalist exposing their corrupt dealings. She is asked by schoolmaster Robert Mallory (West) to investigate strange happenings at Rookwood School, a once grand manor house, in the lonely moors of Northern England.

Once at Rookwood, Cathcart set about investigating the claims of a ghostly boy haunting the hallways. Believing she has solved the case she heads for home when a terrifying experience forces her to stay to investigate over the half term. With only the company of matron Maud Hill (Staunton), Mallory and a young boy whose parents have left him at the school over the holidays she too is haunted by the image of the ghost child revealing a horrible truth long forgotten.

The Awakening is a wonderfully moody piece of cinema with all the trapping one would expect from a ghost story. There are elements of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black (the Hammer film adaption – starring Daniel Radcliffe – is to be released in 2012) and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961) hovering in the background with the trappings of an eerie manor house and spooky toys creaking out haunting nursery rhymes.

There is much to be lauded about this BBC-backed film. The cast handle the characters extremely well, giving convincing and enjoyable performances, and both West and Hall bring out the psychological torment suffered by each character that are both haunted by their own pasts. There are plenty of jump-in-your-seat moments achieved with the use of sophisticated camera work and (of course) the odd loud bang.

Its creepy atmosphere and bleak setting are wonderful but this is very much a flawed film, and the ultimate problem is the ending. There are many good horror ghost films about that suffer the same problem: you can have a great beginning and middle but it you are let down at the end you feel cheated, and sadly this is how you feel watching The Awakening.

The ending aside, The Awakening is an enjoyable film that taps into the mindset of gothic horror well, the performances are fantastic, especially Staunton who is perfectly cast.

Joe Walsh