If you think of a cross between The Woman in Black remake (gothic ghost story) and the recently released Red Lights (debunkers of psychic phenomena), then you might have some idea of what you’re in for with The Awakening.
It’s 1921 in London, and Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is the Amazing Randy of her era, an arrogant author and skeptical scholar hell-bent on exposing hoaxes and seeing that con artists go straight to Scotland Yard. Miss Cathcart has yet to meet a ghost she couldn’t bust. However, when she is called in to investigate ghoulish goings-on at an all-boys boarding school by teacher Mallory (Dominic West) and matron Maud (Imelda Staunton), Cathcart begins to believe in the supernatural after all. (Much like Kipps in The Woman in Black, and Matheson in Red Lights, Cathcart has a hazy death in her past she’s trying to deal with and we’re not supposed to be sure if the things she’s seeing are figments or facts.)
Turns out someone was supposedly murdered on the property of the Cumbria boarding school manor some years ago, but how to explain the apparition of a child whose creepy countenance has already claimed at least one victim? By and by, the mystery unfolds.
It unfolds neatly and spookily at first, but eventually seeps into over-sentimentality and over-explanation (reminiscent of another BBC prod, The Haunted Airman starring Robert Pattinson - but much less boring. Thankfully, The Awakening will actually keep you awake.)
Hall and West make for a nice onscreen team, while Staunton is her at her usual unctuous self, commanding the screen every time she appears. Script is melodramatic, but mostly heightened fun (though the tagline “All The Children Are Gone” pretty much gives it all away… that, and any previous viewing of movies like Turn of the Screw, The Devil’s Backbone, The Others, The Sixth Sense, or The Orphanage might yield, hint-wise). The cinematography is properly ogling of its amazing period sets and lushly gorgeous countryside locations. Sound design is punchy, noisy, and full of “gotchya!” goodness.
If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned cinematic haunt and you don’t mind lack of originality, then by all means… pay tuition to see The Awakening on the big screen. Others, wait for the home-school version.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson