The Awakening (2012)
Director: Nick Murphy
Isaac Hempstead Wright/Tom
England, early 19th century, hot stuff ghost/psychic "debunker" Florence (Rebecca Hall) doesn't believe in the after life or spirits. That's until she's asked to investigate a supposed murderous ghost that's been prowling about an all boys boarding school. Yeah, she changes her mind. Arrow sings! “If there's something strange in your neighborhood. Who ya gonna call? FLORENCE CATHCART!”
No press screening, no advertizing, I didn't even know that THE AWAKENING was out in my parts of the hell we call the world, until I was once again chased out of my office by them damn jack-hammer whoring construction workers doing the doo under me. I guess I should thank these dudes, cause it's because of them I tapped KILLER JOE and now again, it's due to their incessant and maddening ruckus that I ran out of there and checked out THE AWAKENING. Again, happy I did!
THE AWAKENING was an old fashioned ghost story in the vain of THE ORPHANAGE (which director Nick Murphy admitted being influenced by), THE SHINING and THE CHANGELING (which this one rips a scare bit from). It was a character driven drama first, a mystery second and a ghost story third. Personally, it was the layered characters and their complex relationships together that snagged me in its grasp and kept me there till then end. Florence, the lead, simply broke my heart. A lonely and guilt ridden heroine filled with repressed inner turmoil, one that is always putting up a wall, not wanting anybody to come in. But the more the story ticked forward, the more that wall crumbled and the more things were revealed. What a complex and heart wrenching character. As as played by the beyond photogenic (them lips...yum) Rebecca Hall, it was a role that hit home. Miss Hall gave an organic, visceral and moving performance and acted as the heart and the anchor of the movie. When the chain of events would sometime falter, she would keep me in the game. I had seen Hall in The Prestige and The Town, but it's this performance that has officially put her on my radar and that has stamped her name in my chinos. The lass had able support; the underrated Dominic West (love that dude) was efficient as the equally "broken" ex soldier while Imelda Staunton rocked it as the good hearted Maud.
The film itself was macabre gorgeous to gawk at. Lots of wide shots, potent areal shots and slow unsettling tracking/dolly shots. The atmosphere was thick, conveyed by dread filled cinematography (by Eduard Grau), an able smoke machine and sinister locations that kept on giving (the woods, the inside of the school, the hallways, the pond... all used perfecto mundo). Although there was some tension and a couple of chilling bits, the film wasn't as scary as I thought it should have been. It was more its novel supernatural ideas (doll house, all I will say) that kicked me in the nads and punched a smile on my face. Add to all that jive, some taunt “ghost hunting” scenarios (adored Florence's gadgets and traps), a handful of powerful twists that took me for a loop the loop, talented child actors that didn't get on my nerves (always good), an ideal score (by Daniel Pemberton) which backed up the imagery perfectly and a moving love story, driven forward by lust, kindred spirits and the vacuum that is loneliness and you get a retro ghost tale that had a lot going for it. So what went wrong ?
First of all I didn't get WHY the underdeveloped character of the caretaker Edward Judd (ably played by Joseph Mawle) was even in the story apart from creating minor conflict and being a half ass red herring that didn't really work. He could have NOT been present, and next to nothing would have changed. And was I alone in finding the revelations that dropped in the last act a tad muddled in terms of how they were communicated? Even after I was told/shown what was up, it took me a while to fully “get it”. That asshole sitting behind me that kept talking, coughing, getting up, sitting down, broke some of my focus, so maybe the movie was not 100% to blame for that. But it is to blame for that underwhelming “left to interpretation” ending that had me walking out of the theatre on a sour note. Open ended cap-offs are good for some movies, are a cop out for others. After all the emotional investment I had put in the characters and the narrative of THE AWAKENING; leaving me with little closure felt like a sucker punch in and yes, it frustrated me. I deserved a REAL ending man, not one of these these “you figure it out” spiel. Grrrr.
Overall though; I still really enjoyed the movie; it had its bases covered for the bulk of its running time and had me engaged the whole way, which is why I am recommending it. I may even see it again, as I feel that a second watch may make it even more rewarding. I ain't afraid of no ghost! Are you?
Some blood and gun shot wounds. Nothing too overt. The R Rating didn't come from here.
T & A
We get Rebecca Hall's breast (yes just one of them, looked good, am a fan, can't wait to see the other one). And the ladies and gay dudes get Dominic West's butt and a quick shot of Dominic Jr. This is why the movie is Rated R.
THE AWAKENING was a gripping old school ghost story that favored layered characterization, gripping drama, an oppressive mood and a tantalizing mystery over gore and cheap boo scares. The flick also put out some novel ideas and a couple of twists that hit hard. Rebecca Hall was a revelation here for me; what a strong actress and yes she's absolutely gorgeous on top of that. I will now keep tabs on her career. And you can never go wrong with Dominic West in the house! Mofo owns! Too bad that the last act was a bit clumsy in how it conveyed its information and that the final frames gave me little closure. But hey that's just me talking, maybe you will feel differently. You in the mood for a brooding character driven drama peppered with an appealing mystery and ghostly shenanigans? Check out The Awakening! Worth the trip, till the ending tells ya to go f*ck yourself.
The flick was shot in Scotland, UK.
The screenplay was written by Stephen Volk (who also wrote William Friedkin's The Guardian in 1990) and director Nick Murphy.
Rebecca Hall is the daughter of English theater director Peter Hall (who founded the Royal Shakespeare Company) and Americans opera singer Maria Ewing. That somewhat explains why she is such a damn good actress!