Sometimes those of us who get to watch DVDs early have to deal with unfortunate realities of a digital culture that freely pirates movies as easily they live and breathe. As I was watching the new British ghost movie, The Awakening, late at night whilst curled up in bed, the film suddenly turned to black and white. Alongside distributor watermarks, this is occasionally a thing that happens. Thing is, the occasional lapses into black and white actually improved the film for me. Nick Murphy’s film is obviously trying to ape the feel of classic horror The Innocents with his boarding school ghost story so why not go all the way and just film it in black and white? For those brief moments, The Awakening was atmospheric.
Set in an empty British boarding school in post-war Britain, 1921, The Awakening stars Rebecca Hall (The Town) as an author who has found fame in proving ghosts as hoaxes. A fabulous opening scene sees her at work as she takes down charlatan ghost whisperers merely out for the money of gullible mourners. Upon arriving at boys’ school Cumbria she is informed of the students tales of a ghost, possibly that of a young child who used to reside on the premises. She sets out to expose another recent tragedy as little more than a schoolboy game turned bad, but – as one would expect – discovers things are not as they seem within the grounds of this grand estate.
I found this film quite frustrating and difficult to get involved in. The main character uses a bounty of tricks and fabulous contraptions to prove her theories, but Murphy – who as worked predominantly within the British television industry on series such as Primeval and Occupation – seems reluctant to really utilise them all that much. Preferring to keep things very low key, it’s obvious that Murphy is trying to replicate the success of the aforementioned The Innocents, as well as the 2001 creeper, The Others, starring Nicole Kidman.
Thankfully the lead role of Florence Cathcart is a plucky one and Hall tries her hardest to enliven the proceedings. So too does Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) as the kindly Maud, but Dominic West (John Carter) is yet again a vortex of charisma. Where The Awakening attempts to confront the demons of the country’s war torn past, it fumbles greatly. Little sense is made out of it, which makes the motivations of certain characters appear uninteresting. Similarly, for a film that uses such a treat of a location, little effort appears to have been made in crafting an unsettling and atmospheric film. Instead, rather lazily, the filmmaker just lets it be and assumes the chilly corridors of this mansion are enough to suffice.
Much like The Woman in Black from earlier in the year, The Awakening’s major crime is simply being okay. And when dealing with a scenario that is as restrained as this, that makes for a rather bland experience. The performances of Hall, Staunton, and Isaac Hempstead Wright (Game of Thrones) allow for the film to never slip too perilously close to outright bad, but the film proves to be such an unnourishing experience that it barely seems worth it.
The Awakening is out now on DVD and Blu-ray through Madman Entertainment
Director: Nick Murphy
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hemstead Wright, Lucy Cohu, Cal Macaninch, Joseph Mawle and John Shrapnel