The Awakening (2012): Review

Director: Nick Murphy
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton
7/10

Being a sucker for a good atmospheric ghost story, I was exciting to see The Awakening available on Netflix. I had seen the trailer and was convinced that it was worth a watch. While it wasn’t exactly what I hoped for, I wasn’t wrong to check it out.

Rebecca Hall plays Florence Cathcart, a jaded woman who dedicates herself to debunking supernatural tales and legends in post-Great War England. When Robert Mallory (West) approaches her with the story of a haunted boarding school and a dead child, she decides to investigate. Her cold skepticism begins to slip once she begins encountering the ghosts of the school – and her past.

This film reminded me instantly of classics like The Innocents and The Orphanage, all works that employ sprawling mansions and foggy landscapes to create an eerie atmosphere that sets the stage for some creepy supernatural manifestations. The Awakening uses the wintry English countryside to the fullest extent, with beautiful images of misty forests and grey lakes all surrounding the gorgeously spooky boarding school. The cinematography is impeccable, creating many memorable visuals apart from the creepy stuff. If nothing else, it is a feast for the eyes. The acting is also wonderful, especially from the two female leads. In a horror industry that puts performance last, this film stands out.

The creepy stuff, however, does fall a little short. Compared to the subtlety of the camerawork and the acting, the scares are trying just a little too hard. There are a few scenes that gave me legitimate chills, but I was never very scared. In that sense, looking at the film as more of a supernatural drama puts it in a better light. It feels like an arthouse film more than anything, bringing up some poignant questions about the afterlife and the cynicism that World War I brought to Europe.

As a horror film, The Awakening doesn’t work on many levels. The scares are cliched and the ending has been seen too many times. As an arthouse drama, however, the film is well done, and even borders on brilliant at moments. The imagery is haunting, the performances are wonderful, and the questions raised are actually thought-provoking. It is, in some ways, a thinking man’s ghost story. Recommended, as long as it is looked at as something other than a scary movie.

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