MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★
Something exceptional was necessary to wake me up from my tiredness and the miserable rain on this dreary Thursday night. The Awakening fills all the boxes, at least in terms of title. It’s a strong genre piece, taking a fairly traditional approach to the Victorian ghost story while still feeling rather modern. It contains a lot to admire, a nice tone and compelling ambiance but unfortunately just falls short of really leaving too much of a mark.
The Awakening stars Rebecca Hall who is enthralling as a ghost-sceptic investigator, Florence. Florence is in the unusual position of being a well educated 1920s woman and provides a strong character to provide the ‘science’ in its antagonism with faith. The early 1920s provides a morose backdrop for the themes of death, grief and the afterlife and the decision to make it a period piece works well, aided by a strong production value. Florence is enlisted by history teacher, Robert Malleroy (Dominic West) and matron, Maud Hill (Imelda Staunton) to investigate the mysterious apparitions of a child which apparently caused the death of one of their school’s children. Florence investigates the old house and discovers there’s maybe more to understand than she currently realizes.
The last time I encountered Dominic West was a few weeks ago on stage in Othello where he was completely captivating as the manipulative Iago. Here, he perhaps doesn’t quite live up to his high standards even though he’s well cast and doing a bold job of shrugging off any notion of becoming type cast as ‘McNulty from The Wire‘. As Director Nick Murphy explained in the Q&A afterwards, they were looking for a real ‘man’ to play the history master, something West oozes and he does well playing off Hall who really does take charge of the film and provides a fantastic performance.
What doesn’t work so well is for every box that needs a tick, it receives a “not quite”. It’s not quite scary enough. Sure, there are one or two moments (including a gloriously sinister dolls house sequence that’s wonderfully sinister and well shot) and a fair few typical horror ‘jumps’ but it lacks the utter menace of 2007’s The Orphange, a film Murphy is reluctant to state as a direct influence but nevertheless comparisons will be inevitable, not helped by the ‘Britain’s answer to The Orphanage‘ tagline on the film’s poster. The second thing which nearly but doesn’t quite work is the ending. In fact, the much more simple interpretation I had in my head worked fine until that was thrown out of the window with something rather more convoluted and contrived. This detaches you somewhat from the character relationships which were looking like they were going to really end poignantly but didn’t quite manage to lay down a tone at the conclusion.
The Awakening is a strong effort and there’s certainly enough that’s done right to keep you intrigued. Nick Murphy was particularity eloquent in the subsequent Q&A and you get the feeling that with this as his debut feature film, he’s got a lot more in store.
The Awakening is out on 11th November in the UK. Running time: 107 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).
Comments and feedback are always welcome or just give the film a rating by using the stars at the top.
Review by David Rank