The Awakening (2012)
We all love a good ghost story. It heightens the senses, makes the adrenaline run, elicits an emotional response. But we're not too keen on a mediocre one. The genre regularly clefts audiences in two, most often for a differing need for suspense or horror. Your definition of ghost story, therefore, depends on which side of the fence you fall off. Recently, The Woman In Black had Daniel Radcliffe mucking about in a haunted house. Nobody's throat got cut or had their extremities sliced and diced, yet it is widely regarded as one of the better horror films of the year so far, albeit having next to no actual horror in it. What seemed to impress audiences was the tension, the build up and the denouement.
And the same is true here with this joined-up, well written effort from BBC Films and Studio Canal. It is ever-so-frightfully-English-what, set in 1921 and located in an architecturally enviable boarding school in Cumbria. When Dominic West's Mallory, a teacher from said school, comes to visit notorious (if not renowned) author and ghost debunker Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) the story is set for an intriguing and deftly handled couple of hours.
Whilst The Awakening does flitter away a little too often from Creepyspookyjumptown in favour of throwing the viewer and lead into a study of fear through action and inaction, wallowing in a little more conversation than is really necessary, this is still a fine figure of a frightener. Exposition here appears to be more important than incident and most of the time, this is fine, as the acting is top notch from all present, but you do occasionally tire of a drip feed of relevant, even necessary, histories from those people concerned.
Rebecca Hall is very impressive as Florence and this marks a return to form after disappointing in The Town. Her appearance in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona was brilliant and we see her back to her best again here. By turns a confident and intelligent young woman, then startled jack-rabbit, as the world she thought she knew and the belief she put in it appears to become less reliable. Dominic West is perfect as Mallory, initially acidic and stand-offish, the audience is quickly able to warm to his genuinely decent and well-meaning soul as his character arc develops. The same is also true for Imelda Staunton as Maud, the Matron at the school, who even at the beginning of the film, has a look in her eyes that says more than what her lips are prepared to convey.
In all, a very acceptable story, with enough twists by the end to make you keep watching. There are so many twists by its conclusion, in fact, that you could be forgiven for being in two minds about the ending. Entertaining for the most part, but with unfortunate lapses of judgement every so often driving the plot at a pace unbecoming of a film of this genre. Notwithstanding, a great effort by all concerned.