It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I spent a long time eagerly awaiting the release of The Woman In Black and then ended up very disappointed so then I turned to another British ghost movie that was released recently and I got my hopes up that this one, despite many reviews to the contrary, would be a better film. Well, fool that I am, I just ended up being disappointed all over again.
In some ways, The Awakening IS a much better movie that The Woman In Black (it takes a more mature and thoughtful approach to the subject matter) but in many more ways it’s just a bit of a mess that completely falls apart in a third act that undoes a lot of the good work of the first hour.
Rebecca Hall plays Florence Cathcart, an intelligent and sensible woman who has made it her mission to debunk fraudsters and charlatans who claim to have psychic powers in order to profit from the misery of others. And there’s plenty of misery to go around, what with it being 1921 in Britain, a period that saw almost an entire nation mourning for those lost in World War 1. Florence does her job well but each success takes a little bit out of her. She’s the sceptic who secretly yearns to be disproved. When Robert Mallory (played by Dominic West) arrives at her doorstep with the tale of a haunted school and the death of a child the opportunity to once again seek answers proves too alluring. Yet, losing a piece of herself each time she embarks on such a quest already leaves Rebecca feeling close to nothing.
There’s a lot of good stuff here. Director Nick Murphy mixes in some standard jump scares with some impressively low-key spookiness and things build to a climax in the first hour that sees Florence looking at a model of the school and seeing . . . . . . . . . well, you all should know how I like to keep my reviews spoiler-free so I won’t tell you just what she sees but it’s a great moment that throws everything slightly off-kilter. Sadly, it’s NOT actually the climax and there’s another 30-40 minutes to go that piles on more and more details which make it harder to keep suspending your disbelief.
I may be wrong here but I’m pointing the finger more at Nick Murphy for his direction and co-writing than I am at Stephen Volk for his co-writing effort. Stephen Volk is, and always will be, someone I greatly admire for terrifying a generation of British TV viewers with the ahead-of-its-time “Ghostwatch”. To think that he’s gone from that to this makes me feel a bit sad so I’ll just, rightly or wrongly, credit him with the good bits and palm the rest onto the shoulders of Murphy.
It’s certainly not the fault of the cast, who all do well even when the material starts to fray and break apart. Rebecca Hall and Dominic West make for an appealing pair of leads, antagonising each other first before the obvious attraction starts to rise to the surface. Imelda Staunton is as good as ever and young Isaac Hempstead Wright holds his own in a number of scenes that become more relevant as the plot develops.
Fans of The Orphanage and The Others (and, indeed, The Woman In Black) should certainly give this film a viewing but it’s just a shame that all of the good intentions don’t hold it all together until the end credits roll. A great film would have been much appreciated but, instead, we get a great hour followed by a great number of mis-steps.
DIRECTOR: NICK MURPHY
WRITER: STEPHEN VOLK, NICK MURPHY
STARS: REBECCA HALL, DOMINIC WEST, IMELDA STAUNTON, ISAAC HEMPSTEAD WRIGHT
RUNTIME: 107 MINS APPROX