“The Awakening”: I Ain’t Afraid Of No Ghost

I walked out of the cinema and the only word I could think of was, “Meh.”

The film’s set in a Cumbrian boarding school post-WWI, where some ghoulish happenings are scaring the bed-wetting pupils. Of course, this is the early twentieth century, so kids weren’t slumped in front of their LCD screens watching Jersey Shore, playing Call of Duty or masturbating to hardcore porn. (Or, in rare displays of energy and ambition, possibly all three.) The years after the Great War were, as the pre-credits caption states, “a time for ghosts,” presumably when folks had a lot of time to jump to conclusions about how every cold area in their homes were the foul design of a demon spirit, and not simply the result of some poorly installed household insulation. Thus the History master of the school, Mr Mallory (Dominic West) recruits a professional sceptic called Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) to deal with it all. Cue a terribly clichéd introduction:

Mr Mallory: “I was sent to request your help. You are a ghost hunter?”

Florence: “You can’t hunt what doesn’t exist!”

Mr Mallory: “We think we have one that does…”

Florence: *raises eyebrows*

Then again, for the most part, Rebecca Hall does deliver an assured and confident performance, achieving just the right amount of melodrama necessary. Imagine Angela Lansbury, but with more swagger.

Unfortunately, the film’s structure, direction and concept throws her performance down a waterfall of mole piss. It opens with a rather stylish yet misleading scene in which Florence infiltrates a séance and debunks it, but then wastes this effective start with a following exposition that’s full of scenes of Florence looking concerned in corridors and classrooms. This continues for nearly two thirds of the runtime, presumably as a way of establishing herrings of the red variety.

Most of the scares are of the “jumpy” type (which, indeed, are a welcome change from shaky cameras a la ‘Cloverfield’, undead zombies a la ‘Resident Evil’, and people shitting with gusto into each other’s mouths a la ‘The Human Centipede’), but sadly these scares are signposted more clearly than most junctions on the M60. For instance, whilst our protagonist is taking some much-deserved “me-time” in the bathroom, she spots a hole in the wall. What do you think happens when she slowly kneels down to peer through this hole? Yes. That.

Even though director Nick Murphy claims it’s a “thriller,” it feels painfully indebted to horror films like ‘The Orphanage’ and ‘The Devil’s Backbone.’ Murphy seems to have no shame in stealing from paying tribute to other more successful films, e.g. the ball rolling down the stairs from ‘Changeling,’ the cloth over the face distortion from ‘The Others’ (ad infinitum.)

This all leads to a predictably tepid ending, with unbelievably-difficult-to-follow plot twists galore. So much so that it makes M. Night Shyamalan look like the epitome of restraint. I could tell that most other people in the cinema didn’t get the conclusion either. It was almost as if this ‘shock’ conclusion (which, incidentally, doesn’t) was deliberately rushed so as to apply plaster to its cracks before anyone had time to call Rogue Traders. The plot twists don’t hold up to such close scrutiny: I left the cinema thinking, “but wasn’t she..?”, “but surely that means..?”, “but they never..?” whilst getting the impression that if I were to ask the director, he would shrug nonchalantly in response and roll a fag.

With so many great films being released ahead of the Oscars, there’s no need to add this to your already cholesterol-induced movie-going buffet. Well … unless you fancy watching Rebecca Hall masturbate in a bathtub. Now you never got that in “Murder, She Wrote.”

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