Maybe I’m just getting old, or maybe I’ve just seen too many movies, but it is getting harder and harder to be scared or impressed by a “ghost” film. There is really not much that hasn’t already been done a dozen times before and The Awakening treads on that very familiar territory; but it is still classy enough and at least slightly different enough to remain interesting.
The story is set in 1921 as England is beginning to recover from World War One. Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is the popular author of a book called, “Seeing Through Ghosts,” and she is a no-nonsense woman who is a cross between Dana Scully from The X-Files and Sherlock Holmes.
Florence has lost her fiancé during the war and is trying to find proof of the after-life while at the same time disproving 1920s charlatans who are preying on the poor souls who lost loved ones in battle and from the influenza pandemic of that era – sort of a female Harry Houdini out to debunk psychics and mediums.
This early twentieth-century ghostbuster is called to a school for boys where a child has died, allegedly frightened to death by the ghost of boy that haunts the castle-like digs where the children board and attend classes. The children are all scared and Robert Mallory (Dominic West), the teacher that contacts Ms. Cathcart, is worried that they will leave and not return for the next semester.
Florence sets about her work and uncovers plenty of creepiness, but quickly finds logical explanations for all the alleged haunting activity – almost. She experiences enough unexplained phenomena that she stays on at the boarding house after all of the children have returned home, save for the child of the head housekeeper.
To say much more would spoil many of the surprises in this movie, but if you’ve seen ghost films like The Others (2001) or the more recent Silent House or The Woman in Black, then you won’t be shocked by any of the revelations in this film. The simple story becomes very convoluted as it progresses and you will likely be scratching your head in confusion more than once.
What The Awakening lacks in originality though, it makes up for with its classy performances by Rebecca Hall, Dominic West (Sab Than from John Carter) as a teacher and broken war veteran, and Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) as the school’s housekeeper.
This film was written by its director, Nick Murphy, who is best known for writing and directing British television shows. I think Murphy started off with a good idea for a film here and Florence Cathcart is a very captivating character, but the interesting course set by the beginning of this film does not last long – and that is a shame. I would have much preferred that the director/writer stayed on course with a story focusing on this 1920s female adventurer and author, instead of succumbing to a run-of-the-mill ghost-story.