“The Awakening” is a paranormal horror/thriller starring Rebecca Hall as the skeptical hoax-buster Florence Cathcart. The setting is 1921 England, shortly after World War I. Florence has led a troubled life: she has blocked out much of her childhood, and (if I recall correctly) has lost her husband in the war.
The movie begins with her exposing the hoax of a spiritualist group. Shortly, thereafter a man by the name of Robert Mallory comes to her home to hire her to look into several ghost sightings at a boys’ boarding school. She reluctantly agrees and heads to the school. She begins her investigation with the various and sundry trappings of a disciplined scientist. She soon discovers, however, that the things that go bump in the night may just have more credence than she first believed.
The plot of the story is pretty straightforward at first: it’s basically a paranormal investigation being performed by a skeptic based on debunking the phenomena. The paranormal effects are carefully and precisely done, which is a pleasure. They did not go overboard. There were no bubbling cauldrons of blood or eviscerated phantasms … well, there was some gunshot wounds, but that was about it. I found that refreshing because the movie relied on plot and structure to build suspense. And that’s what it was: more suspenseful than horror. And I liked that.
Strengths: the carefully chosen special effects were masterful. As were the oddly disturbing use of seemingly ordinary objects: a doll with a rabbit’s head, a dollhouse filled with little homemade figures. Taken together, they gave the film a subtle, yet satisfying ambience. Weaknesses: I wouldn’t call this a weakness, but there was little blood and gore. Some people looking for strict horror might be unsatisfied. But actually, upon reflection, I would regard that as a strength. The biggest weakness, I thought, was the unneeded double twist at the end. I say double, because there were two twists and neither one was needed. I would have been perfectly happy if the story had stuck to the original storyline of the paranormal investigation vindicating the existence of ghosts. But they had to (spoiler alert) tie back the whole building and ghost to the main character, and then have the psycho nanny (or whoever she was) try to kill the main character. A well-crafted paranormal investigation would have suited me much better and could have been a better movie.
Overall, I’ll give the movie four out of five stars. It would have been four and a half out of five if they had just resolved the original story line without the double twist. But they didn’t.