August 27, 2012

Movie Review: The Awakening (2012)

It's times like this that I wish I was able to just sit down and write a review shortly after watching the movie. Sadly, this does not happen all that often. Quite frequently in those intervening hours, days, and sometimes more, the specific deals needed to properly convey my thoughts of a given film fade. I lame some of it on age and some of it on my inability to actually determine what it is I want to say. In this case the subject is The Awakening. It is a movie I quite enjoyed but will likely struggle to say anything worthwhile about. Just a word of warning.

The film is set in London, England, in the aftermath of World War I. The country is suffering the sadness of all those lost in the war. One of those suffering from loss is Florence Cathcart (Rebeca Hall). She has built up a strong wall around her feelings and has thrown herself into her work as a debunker of spiritual hoaxes. Her skills to cut through the trickery is put on display early on during a seance. It is a fun sequence and a fine way to introduce us to Florence.

The guarded, yet independent Florence is invited out to the countryside to a school said to be haunted by the ghost of a young boy murdered some years earlier. The idea is that Florence will come in and show them they have nothing to be afraid of. Well, things do not go exactly as expected. Florence's wall begins to show signs of wear and crumble.

The movie goes through three distinct segments. The first is a gothic drama that sees Florence going about her work to debunk the ghost sitings. She goes about setting up her gear, an early investigator if you will. This gives way to an actual mystery where her wall is chipped at and the ghosts may be appearing to her. This goes on to reveal the full on ghost story where secrets are revealed that will forever alter Florence's life.

Wow, looking at that paragraph and I just cringe at the foot of my meager to mom existent writing abilities. What you should take away from this is that The Awakening is a really good ghost story. You can put it alongside films like The Woman in Black, The Orphanage, The Devil's Backbone, and The Others. It proves there is life left in the creepy, old school, slow burn ghost story sub genre.

The Awakening was directed by Nick Murphy, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Stephen Volk. Murphy displays a solid sense for visual style and pacing. The movie has an involving slow burn quality that slowly builds everything up to the climax. There is a great gothic quality hat we don't see enough in cinema these days.

Besides the delicious pacing and involving story, the performances cannot be ignored. Rebecca Hall gives a fantastic performance as Florence. She is simultaneously strong and vulnerable, she brings just the right quality to the screen. Hall is very believable in the role and watching her defenses falter and shatter is one of the movies strongest qualities.

Sadly, it appears the movie is going to slip right through theaters. I arrived with little fan fare and seemingly no advertising. I did not even know this movie existed until it showed up in the movie listings. I do not recall seeing any commercials, trailers, or even a poster for it. It is a real shame. I can only hope you will get past my terrible writing ere and give the movie a shot, it is well acted, written, and dripping with atmosphere.


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