Thursday, April 19, 2012

2011's The Awakening (And A Formal Shout Out To My New Compadre, Marie)

Hello, fellow horror fans! I am thrilled to introduce myself, my name is Marie and I shall be reviewing the 2011 British film, The Awakening, directed by Nick Murphy, whose only previous endeavors were several television shows.

First of all, I love the poster. For some unknown reason Rotten Tomatoes is using an extremely boring all-black poster, when this one is perfectly marvelous! It captures the creepy atmosphere that is carried throughout the whole film, and I daresay you might have to watch this one twice to wrap your head around it!

The setting is England in 1921, just after the end of Word War I. The city is foggy and dark, cloaked in the anguish the war has left behind. Our opening scene unfolds onto a séance, where a group of people are seated around a long table lighted with tall candles, each with an object placed in front of them—a lock of hair, a photograph, a string of pearls, etc.

The group begins a chant, asking the spirits to come forward; a woman’s candle extinguishes before her, and from the other side of the table, a pale-faced, long-haired figure starts to approach. The woman becomes hysterical, believing it to be her deceased daughter making an appearance from the afterlife, when suddenly a young woman stands up from the table, storms over to the apparition and rips off its dark tresses, revealing the specter to be nothing but a little boy in a dress with his face painted white. This young woman—who is our protagonist, Florence Cathcart, played by the lovely Rebecca Hall (seen in Vicky Christina Barcelona and several stage performances)—rips open the curtains and exposes the audience to what this scene really is, a hoax.

Florence Cathcart is the author of an acclaimed book entitled, “Seeing Spirits” which denounces the existence of ghosts. She is known around England for debunking hauntings and exposing hoaxes. After the séance, Florence declares that she is no longer taking any more cases (but not before she gets bitch-slapped by one of the séance attendees). She is overcome with grief of a lover lost in the war; she carries his initial-engraved cigarette case with her everywhere.

Of course, it isn’t that easy getting out of the ghost-hunting business—if that was the case the movie would be a mere ten minutes long. A handsome man (Dominic West) appears at her doorstep, begging for her help.

This man goes by the name of Robert Malory, and he teaches at a school in Cambria where a boy was allegedly murdered some years ago, before the building had become a school and was still a private home. However, three weeks prior to Mr. Malory’s visit to Florence, a student claimed to see the dead child.
So off she goes through the sweeping landscape of the English countryside! After pulling up to a massive and foreboding gray-bricked mansion, Florence and Robert are greeted by Maud, (Imelda Staunton, most widely known as the biggest bitch in Hogwarts, Professor Umbridge) a woman who works at the school and Florence’s biggest fan. She informs Florence that she keeps her book right next to the Bible, and she has no patience for all the talk and fear of ghosts going around.

Florence receives a formal tour of the school, making sure to meet all of the other creepy staff members, and then proceeds to set up her various equipment she uses to catch “ghosts”. One of her devices is a newspaper covered in flour, which she claims is used to trace footprints. “Ghosts have footprints?” Robert asks. To which Florence aptly replies, “No, people pretending to be ghosts do.”

Things take a turn when Florence begins getting instant results; her traps are being set off by a child she can only catch a glimpse of as he darts around corners. She believes the culprit to be a sad, quiet boy named Tom—the last person to see the recently murdered child alive.

As her usual methods begin to fail and she continues to experience inexplicable events that her usual methods can’t resolve, her sanity starts to wane and no one is as they seem in the boarding school.

The story unravels at a steady and satisfying pace, and the events that happen along the way are exciting, original and unpredictable. Halfway through you might get the idea that you can guess the ending (I had a few ideas myself) but I guarantee that you cannot.

This movie reminded me a lot of The Others (don’t think that means I’m giving away the ending!) and Henry James’s novel the Turn of the Screw, two other English ghost stories that I thoroughly enjoy. It is a spooky, atmospheric film with limited special effects and beautiful shadowy cinematography.

Personally, I loved the character of Florence Cathcart. She’s not necessarily a likable character, she can be kind of a jerk, but hey, that is because she has a very dark and troubled past. People in the film are constantly commenting on how she is an “educated woman”, which is totally condescending but makes her a bad ass of her time. She is a tough chick who manages to kick some ass, come to terms with some terrible things about her past, and have some steamy romance, too (two guesses as to who she pairs up with).
Rebecca Hall has put on a wonderful performance as Florence, capturing her emotions and personality beautifully.

I’m a sucker for understated ghost stories, but I really enjoyed this film. It was released in Canada, Ireland, the U.K, and Italy in 2011, and will be out in the United States August 10th of this year.
If anyone else has seen it please tell me what you think!

 *Marie Robinson is an aspiring folklore expert, fledgling writer, and obvious old soul from St. Louis, MO.  She considers Roman Polanski one of her favorite directors, The Sentinel among the scariest of films she's seen, and has read both Algernon Blackwood and M.R. James. All this makes her a class act already, and she's not yet 21.
In her spare time, she does what any true genre fan does - she works at the local movie theater, slinging popcorn and Twizzlers to your sorry asses.

Show her some love, people.


The Mike said...

As another horror lover who spent much of his 20s slinging popcorn at a theater, I offer a hearty welcome!

This is the first I've heard of this film, but it's certainly on my radar now. If it's in the vein of The Others/Turn of the Screw, I'm in.

Marie Robinson said...

Cheers! I wish I could say slinging popcorn is easy but many movie goers tend to have sticks up their asses.

If you like the Others and Turn of the Screw you will love this one! Brits always know the best ghost stories.

James Gracey said...

Sadly I missed this at the cinema - it had a very limited release over here. It's on my 'to watch' list. Like Mike said, if its in a similar vein to The Others/Turn of the Screw and that sort of chilly MR James approach to horror, it should be something quite special. And from what I've read elsewhere about it - and what you reiterated in your review - it has more than a few fresh twists and surprises up its sleeve. Really enjoyed your review, Marie. Look forward to reading more of your stuff!

Shawn said...

Very nice review. Welcome. Looks like Chris has chosen ...wisely. I would expect nothing less from my niece.

Christine Hadden said...

James: I can't wait to see this one either, Marie is a step ahead of me!

Shawn: Yes, I caught your Indiana Jones reference...and loved it! :)
And thanks, I think Marie will be the breath of fresh air FWF needs!

teddy crescendo said...

Christine, have you seen the 1980 Charlton Heston horror movie with the same title ?, its one of the most magical and soothing (and ludicrously under-rated) horror movies of all-time, i think the whole movie is on YouTube to save you buying another unneccessary DVD.

Christine Hadden said...

Teddy: I may have seen that Heston film many moons ago.... will have to check it out, thanks for the tip.

Misty R. said...

I love Rebecca Hall but i never had the chance to see this movie because it will be available in the U,S only around august so i need to wait until then, shame.
By the way great review.