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The Awakening

The Awakening

By Frances Taylor • March 22nd, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 4/5

Release date: March 26th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 107 minutes

Director: Nick Murphy
Writers: Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy
Composer: Daniel Pemberton

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton

There’s nothing scarier than not being able to trust yourself. To wake up, and to question the fabric of your life, to ask what is real and what isn’t real. To have everything you thought you knew ripped to shreds. To be uncertain of the foundations upon which you’ve built your existence.

In post-war Britain, Florence Cathcart (Hall) is a ghost buster. She does not believe in the supernatural, and scorns those who do. Grief-stricken relatives paid to attend seances, to communicate with those lost, unable to let go. Cathcart faces the charlatans head on, exposing them for the fraudsters they are and explaining their tricks away with logic and science. Her book stands on shelves next to bibles, such is her respect across the country.

Robert Mallory (West) is a headmaster of a remote Cumbrian boarding school. One of his students has died in mysterious circumstances, and he needs to know why. She agrees to travel north with Mallory to explain away the supernatural with cold, hard science.

But when Florence experiences a phenomena she can’t understand, and she can no longer rely on her logic, everything she thought she knew is called into question. Is she being haunted by a ghost, or has she finally cracked from the strain of so much grief?

The Awakening

From the beginning of the film, we are shown the loss that Florence has already suffered. She was orphaned as a child, and she carries a cigarette case with someone else’s initials engraved onto it after he did not return from the war.

Her tenacity for proving that there is no afterlife stems from losing so many people that were so close to her. By proving that ghosts don’t exist, she is asserting to herself that she is very much alone in life, and squashing any hope inside she has of being reunited with those she has loved and lost.

The question that drives The Awakening is “what is it?”. We see the movie entirely through Florence’s eyes, discovering what she discovers as she discovers it, cowering at her unknowns, and spying on a naked Mallory through a whole in the bathroom wall (who wouldn’t?).

In order for Florence to understand the literal haunting of the house, she must look inside of herself and understand her inner haunting, and confront what she fears the most. The psychological and highly personal nature of Florence’s journey is what makes The Awakening such an enjoyable film. Whilst we may not be wracked with the same survivor’s guilt, we’ve all hidden something from ourselves, buried secrets deep inside and lived a life of denial until we couldn’t stand it any more. The Awakening shows that even the strongest of constructed world’s can’t stand up against the truth, and the longer we leave it, the more explosive the results can be.

Murphy keeps the script taut for the first two acts, revealing snippets slowly so we, with Florence, can attempt to piece together what is happening.

The Awakening

In the third act, when the mysteries are explained, the tension slackens, then drops entirely. As with every film, nothing can be as scary as our imagination. Even though I thought the ending was smart, it did leave me feeling a little deflated. Though nothing could have lived up to the tension and the solid series of scares and jumps from the previous scenes, it felt different in tone too.

The Cumbrian setting is foreboding and isolated, the ideal backdrop for ghost stories and love stories. It’s also a place so bleak and empty that secrets can’t help but be found out. Away from her sensible, comfortable London life, Florence must face herself away from her own distractions. Unable to busy herself, the truth begins to bubble up in Florence’s subconscious. Looking back, there are hints and clues about the ‘ghost’ which I didn’t pick up on at the time, Murphy has clearly thought through the plot with a comb, and tosses in a few red herrings for good measure.

Hall gave a great performance as Florence, I was completely captivated. I enjoyed how sensible she was in the beginning, using her scientific apparatus and striding around the school so certain in her assertions. When she lost her cool, so did I, when she became doubtful, I too asked questions, and when she completely lost it, my nerves were on tenterhooks.

West gave a solid performance too, although his character was less developed. He was a rock to Florence, the sensible force of calm that we both longed for when the haunting became too much to handle.

The Awakening is part ghost story and part psychological thriller. The plot twists and turns, there are jumps and the tension is often very taut. It doesn’t gore-out, shocking us with violence and blood and guts, but instead provides something more intelligent and moving, something much more relatable, an uneasy reminder to us all that we need to face up to the difficult parts of our past in order to overcome them.

Frances Taylor

Frances Taylor

Frances likes words and pictures, regardless of media. She finds great comfort and escape in film, and is attracted to anything character-driven with a strong story. Through these stories, she will find meaning in the world. Three movies that Frances thinks are really good for this are You and Me and Everyone We Know (Miranda July), I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK (Chan-Wook Park), and How I Ended This Summer (Alexei Popogrebsky).

When Frances grows up, she would like to write words and make pictures and have cool people recognise her on the street and tell her that they really enjoy her work.

She can be found overreacting and over-caffeinated on Twitter @penny_face, a childhood moniker from her grandmother owing to her gloriously round face.

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