Review: ‘The Awakening’ Keeps You Up at Night
Here’s the deal: horror movies are coming out of the woodwork, and for all the clever ones out there, there are twice as many that are barely tolerable. The Awakening falls somewhere in between, and it’s teetering more on the clever side until the convoluted ending leaves us scratching our heads.
The story follows protagonist Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) as she continuously tries to disprove that ghosts exist, and she even has a popular nonfiction book published about her experiences. Big deal, right? The real game changer is the fact that this is set in 1921 England when it was rare for women to even go to college, let alone publish books. In that sense, it’s nice to cheer for a female protagonist that can hold her own in a male-dominated society.
As with any ghost story, there’s a new case that’s different from everything else she has ever experienced before. Thus, the real story begins. When Robert Mallory (Dominic West) shows up to enlist her help in uncovering the death of a little boy at a boarding school, she has no interest in taking the case. That wouldn’t leave us with much of a story, though, so ultimately, she goes with him to investigate, and yes, a 1921 English boarding school does look as creepy as it sounds. Even without things jumping out, it’s scary.
Once she’s settling in at the boarding school, she meets Maud Hill (Imelda Staunton), a rather odd woman that almost immediately follows Florence around like a lost puppy. After all the main characters are introduced, the story takes off smoothly, and the thrills start coming. Don’t expect too much bang for your buck with the thrills, though. It’s all things you’ve seen before., but it still manages to get the job done.
Since Florence is anti-supernatural, she’s convinced the strange noises and movements are coming from the little boys at the school, though. Surely, they’re playing pranks, and there’s not actually a ghost afoot. As an audience, we’re hoping she’s wrong because that would defeat the purpose of a ghost story. Even if she refuses to believe in ghosts, we still can.
Hall is believable as the well-educated, female lead, and she comes across as just the right amount of smart and cold. However, the most impressive is West as the charming and mysterious love interest. It’s questionable whether or not he’s good or bad, but we desperately want him to be good. In order to avoid spoilers, you can go ahead and watch to find out. Props to West for pulling it off.
Even with the predictable scares, The Awakening still manages to be an entertaining ghost story. There’s one scene in particular that stands out above the rest, and it’s shocking how eery it really is. Be forewarned, it involves a dollhouse and scary faceless dolls. As any horror buff should know, dolls make everything slightly creepier, and the scene may or may not make you want to sleep with your light on.
Everything works well enough in the story until the ending. Once the climax slips into the resolution, it doesn’t make as much sense as it should, and it’s a shame too because the twist is a good one. It’s hard to tell which characters are alive and which are dead – not in the clever Sixth Sense sort of way either. It’s mostly just a jumbled mess that takes away the validity of the rest of the movie.
Bottom line: The Awakening doesn’t show anything we haven’t seen before, but it’s an entertaining ghost story to see unfold. Just be prepared to be confused by the rushed ending, and the rest of it should still be an enjoyable ride.