Look What We Have Here
Haunted mansions and a ghostly kid. Sounds like formula all over again. But to its credit The Awakening packed a reasonable storyline to prop up a mystery and provided some attempts at scaring the audience, except that its focus centered around the main lead Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) and her capabilities making this more like a ghost hunter's adventures in early 20th century England, with creepy sets to boot.
And Florence Cathcart is undoubtedly an interesting character, who through the course of the film transforms from a Dana Scully equivalent to a Fox Mulder believer. We get introduced to her in the tail end of her investigations to bust false prophets and mediums who claim to be able to communicate with the nether world, and she does so with aplomb and satisfaction, exposing those in the trade to fool gullible citizens who are unable to let go of their grief. A bestselling author, she gets challenged one day by a teacher of a boarding school, Robert Mallory (Dominic West) to look into a recent death of a pupil, who had claimed to have seen a ghost before he died.
Reluctant at first, she takes up the challenge, brings her wares, and digs deep to try and prove that a boarding school is fertile ground for pranks to be played by its many naughty students, a thought that soon got debunked as little by little the inexplicable happens, paving way for great atmospherics set up by the filmmaking team, utilizing the sprawling mansion with its dimly lit long corridors and staircases to full effect. But the scares never really got there, with the usual shadow play and bag of tricks used, with director Nick Murphy being quite certain to want to play up the atmosphere to raise those goosebumps, yet underwhelm in his delivery of real moments that will make your heart beat faster, nor allow you any avenue to squirm in your seat.
The narrative then has enters into the school vacation period, which reduced the number of usual suspects who could have some role to play in the whole scheme of things, such as Mallory himself being a war veteran and have lived through hell on earth during WWI, the matron Maud Hill (Imelda Staunton whose make up makes her look really sinister), and the young kid Tom (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who stays behind because his parents were away. It doesn't take long for you to soon figure out who's who and what's what, although I am fairly impressed with the backstory Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk had come up with, while on one hand isn't something not done before, but still it's well written and fleshed out, dealing with how we tend to psychologically block out really nasty memories from our lives in what would be an automatic self-protecting mechanism.
Rebecca Hall plays it really serious as an investigator hell bent on using (rudimentary) science to bust all matters of the supernatural, only to find herself caught thick in some ghoulish action. She's no scream queen here as her character possesses more of a pragmatic and determined mind to learn of the truth, only for tables to be turned and for her to dig deep into her own experiences instead in order to live through the ordeal. Probably the only disbelief here in the entire movie would be her character's needless romance with Dominic West's Mallory, which was quite unnecessary if only to show that some desperate feelings develop in a cold, dark mansion with two lonely people being put together.
The final scenes of the film offered up some nice little twists and surprises that prolonged the conclusion, with an epilogue that will leave you guessing right up until the last minute to see whether Nick Murphy decided to go for the jugular like other films in the genre, or to stick to a more traditional and conventional finale, and I'm glad it was what it had decided to be. It may not effectively be an out and out horror film designed to scare, but as a mystery-thriller, it does have what it takes and presented something quite decent through its storytelling strength.