GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ 'The Awakening' directed by Nick Murphy | I Smell Sheep

Friday, November 4, 2011

'The Awakening' directed by Nick Murphy

Director: Nick Murphy

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton

1921 England is overwhelmed by the loss and grief of World War I and following the Spanish flu, the opening titles tell us “This is a time for ghosts.”

Skeptic and hoax exposer Florence Cathcart is enlisted by Teacher Robert Mallory to investigate a boarding school and explain sightings of a child ghost. Upon arriving however things go awry when everything Florence knows begins to unravels as the dead begin to show themselves and her own past comes back to haunt her.

There is a tendency to forget that delving's into supernatural haven't always been at the hands of a petrified protagonist out of the lens of a shaky camera. Modern horror's while retaining the mystery have become much more first person affairs or vitriolic shock value bastardisations of their cinematically older cousins.

A resurgence in the supernatural chiller has happened in recent years that has re-acquired the lost gothica through films like The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Devils Backbone, The Orphanage and the sort of low key cinema that isn't afraid to tread in period waters with rounded characters and an affecting story in favour of gratuity and gore.

The Awakening adds to this tradition bringing the period ghost story back with an elegant tale of murder, mystery, terror and revelation. While it's often entertaining enough to have a simple ghost story set in a different era, this tale is something more. Beautifully shot through the gloomy lens of Eduard Grau, Nick Murphy transports us to the purgatory of England in mourning duirng the 1920's.

Stricken by the guilt and the personal isolation of the post war years, the fear encapsulated in the dark halls and unforgiving teachers cum survivors of the haunted boys school seems palpable, crushing almost. Rebecca Hall's Florence Cathcart is an inspiring rendition of a strong willed cynic, really a haunted woman trying to outrun the misery of her blighted past.

Her 20's style ghost hunting gadgetry is more engrossing than any hackneyed modern devices, though I initially struggled with Catcart as a character, trying to imagine such a strong willed protagonist pre-feminism. But Hall's performance wins you over persuading you that her cold and clinical method comes from a darker place, her cynical requirement a self protective barrier that she has erected by necessity.

The pace of the film is played staccato, long silences are interrupted by bursts of mayhem. The moment you feel secure the beautifully gothic score from Daniel Pemberton begins to wail and assures you you are not. The feeling of guilt and sadness weigh heavily amongst the cast and indeed the boys of the school are wrapped in similar isolated and fearful conditions. Add to this the ghost of a boy and the death of another and you have a melting pot of emotional turmoil.

The boys are painted a combination of both cliquish and terrified as subjects not just to a haunting, but to the backlash of a generation of men who were forced to toughen up before their time, resulting in displays of behaviour that today would rank as odious, but then was par for the course. It's this eye for detail that allows you to forget Murphy's questionable 'Ghost Science' and become immersed in the bleakness of the circumstances. Rising discomfort floods through the screen and the suffocating sense of dread is enough to buckle the most hardened supernatural aficionado.

The excellent Dominic West wears survivors guilt behind a stolid exterior, while secretly he's cramped with the post trauma's of war and death. Imelda Staunton similarly hides her emotions behind the poker face of duty, her real motivations a harder nut to crack. The mystery is infused with the raw emotions of the cast and melts perfectly into a study of sadness and of a yearning to be healed. These are the things that will in turn yield the answers to the haunting and the dead, rather than the science that Hall's Cathcart finds is falling short.

The Awakening is a twisty turny film, with a plot that will mislead you and intrigue you as far as the credits. Despite it's short falls in what seemed a slightly rushed final act, it is a truly superb piece of eerie. A tale as much driven by excellent character as it is by a rich plot thick with scares and misdirection.

By: Mark McCann
For film reviews and much more check out Mark's site: Bad Haven

1 comment:

  1. Sounds so spooky! *shivers* I did watch The Orphanage and that scared the poop out of me, I think I'd pass on this but for folks that like a good thrill it sounds like a winner! :)