The Awakening DVD Review

There are certain rules you must abide by to survive watching a horror film.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I broke the first one when choosing a sunny Saturday afternoon to review Nick Murphy’s directorial debut.

Not exactly the witching hour.

But even with this blatant transgression of home entertainment horror lore, The Awakening still managed to get inside my head and give me the proverbial shivers.

We’re introduced to supernatural investigator Florence Cathcart, played with fierceness and a barely concealed vulnerability by Rebecca Hall, as she breaks up a charlatan séance in Victorian era London.

No sooner has she done this, and no sooner have we begun to notice the hints of Cathcart’s own troubled mind, there’s a knock on her door from an equally troubled soul.

Teacher and former war hero Robert Mallory, played by the enduringly dashing Dominic West, manages to persuade a reluctant Cathcart to investigate his isolated Cumbrian school that may or may not be haunted by the ghost of a young boy killed there many years ago.

The two form an unlikely alliance, with Cathcart hell bent on disproving the ghost theory and Mallory equally determined to open her eyes to the possibility that it’s more than just theory.

This allows the two to verbally spar with each other about their own ideas on faith and science from the outset, with Imelda Staunton’s excellent school matron character of Maud Hill falling somewhere in between.

The Awakening’s story may sound generic enough, but there’s a real sharpness at play here. You can’t fail to appreciate the generous handful of plot twists that I genuinely didn’t see coming.

It’s deliciously creepy too, with Murphy’s beautiful cinematography adding to the ever growing sense of unease horrors “what’s that in the corner of your eye” style instils.

The real brains behind The Awakening though, is that it doesn’t set out just to scare. It’s less of a ghost story and more an exploration of being haunted by the past, with its biggest spectre that of the devastating after effects the First World War had on London.

Grief, loneliness and guilt are the themes of the day, while the actual haunting serves primarily as a plot device through which these can be explored.

The Awakening is spectacularly well executed, managing to unsettle the audience in much the same way as its characters are haunted by their pasts. No small achievement in today’s horror’s saturated market, where viewers have been desensitised by the hyper violence of Saw and its torture porn brethren.

And, even though I didn’t pay attention to the rules, I managed to survive.

Jennifer Large

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March 2012
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