The Awakening is a Gothic chiller akin to Juan Antonio Bayona’s superb The Orphanage and the now infamous The Sixth Sense.
The Awakening is a Gothic chiller akin to Juan
Antonio Bayona’s superb The Orphanage and
the now infamous The Sixth Sense.
Though severely lacking in the scares department and being
rather blunted by creaking plot contrivances, The Awakening is nonetheless a visually impressive film with over-boiled
creepiness from Imelda Staunton, a
Rochester-esque hunk in Dominic West
and Rebecca Hall in commanding form.
This is perfect for tickling those guilty desires for schlock horror and a
penchant something old fashioned. At its best The Awakening harks back to some of the heyday of the Hammer Horror films, where a sense of brooding psychological terror
that wouldn’t be out of place in a collection of the work of Edgar Allen Poe was the main
attraction. Yet at its worst it suffers from a pretty awkward plot that undoes
most of this good work.
Though the always-brilliant Rebecca Hall and the imperious
Imelda Staunton provide the sass and the spook of the film, The Awakening loses its appeal when it
ventures into the realms of being an M.
Night Shyamalan-esque picture. Shyamalan may have shot to fame when he
showed he could do a good plot twist now and again, (that is before he started
torching his own career with the unwatchable drivel of Lady In The Water), however The Awakening falls rather unfortunately into the heavily contrived oeuvre of
Shyamalan’s later work (the mind numbing boredom of The Happening springs to
mind). Had the film stuck with the much more straightforward, and subsequently
much more enjoyable, Hammer Horror style of filmmaking we might have had a film
that pleasantly harked back to the glory of late night shockers. As it turns
out, The Awakening promises so much
but ultimately fails to deliver the goods.
Set in post-War England 1921, the ongoing grief of those who
lost loved ones in the Great War and the following Spanish Flu epidemic is
taking its toll as hoax séance’s exploit those who yearn to be at peace with
those they have lost. Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a famous novelist and
investigator who is on a personal vendetta to expose these fraudulent
gatherings in a quest to disprove the existence of the afterlife. When she is
asked however to take on one more case, where a sighting of a child ghost has
disturbed all the inhabitants at a boarding school, a dark and revealing past
comes to light for Cathcart.
In the opening scenes there is great enjoyment to be had in
Cathcart’s skill at exposing the said hoaxers. She is quick-witted, knows all
the tricks and pulls no punches when it comes to dealing with those who exploit
the vulnerable. A sort of quasi-Holmesian figure in a frock, Cathcart also
resembles the bullish character of Adele
Blanc-Sec played by Louise Bourgoin
in Luc Besson’s recent comic strip
adaptation. And although Bourgoin is not in same class as Rebecca Hall, there
is something endearing about having strong female characters feature as the
centre of the piece as opposed to merely standing in as peripheral fluff.
The denouement of the film will appear as a strange mixture
to those who have seen either The Sixth Sense or Dark City as the initial plot revolves around a fairly
straightforward ghost hunt but then shoots off on a tangent revealing a
forgotten past. Ultimately, as the plot contrivances crank themselves up, the
film feels confused from the initial genre style of the film and falls on its
own sword when it attempts to be more than it is. It feels strange to criticise
a film for aiming high in its ambitions, though the enjoyment of The Awakening comes in the eeriness of the film’s
tone, not the great revelation at the end.
While director Nick
Murphy may have made a stylish debut, it’s a sadly underwhelming affair,
promising much but suffering from a severe lack of scares and prolonged terror.
It just goes to show, those often derided Hammer films were brilliant for what
they were and not what they tried to be.