By Anna Bielak | August 17, 2012
Director: Nick Murphy
Writers: Nick Murphy, Stephen Volk
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Lucy Cohu, John Shrapnel, Ian Hanmore, Richard Durden, Diana Kent, Isaac Hempstead-Wright
When I was a kid I believed in ghosts that wandered every now and then in the attic just above my nursery. Soon it turned out that the bizarre rat-a-tat was nothing more than a sound of bark beetles working on a wooden joist. As far as I remember, I was a bit disappointed by this — according to some opinions — favorable turn, and I have not talked about paranormal activities ever since. Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) does not believe in ghosts either. In the opening sequence of The Awakening, writer-director Nick Murphy leads the viewers into his heroine’s world by revealing how craftily she exposes the fictitious séance. There is a sort of cruelty in her way of depriving believers of hope and balm; yet, there is also a trace of bitterness in Florence’s eyes. Maybe she would prefer to believe in everything she is questioning rather than prove that it is nothing more than trashy cheek?
Let’s face it, from the very beginning, it easy to guess that Florence is hiding something. There are subjects that she does not want to bring up. Fortunately, Robert Mallory (Dominic West) takes her to the Rookford Boys Boarding School, where she does not have to talk about anything. The world around her delivers a sort of speech — faces of deceased people appearing in the mirrors, undefined shadows wandering along the gloomy corridors and every door snapping shut just behind her back. Murphy, by all possible means, has turned horror into a typical ghost-story; yet, he is very conscious of the idea that viewers should be scared at very same times as Florence. He makes an impression that skepticism towards the life hereafter loses its’ strength simultaneously there (in Florence’s world) and here (among the audience).
The whole time we are just a step away Florence, who is persistently trying to unravel the story of an occult ghost that haunts the school. Not believing our senses, while being accustomed to ghosts stories, we stop being attentive and therefore we let Murphy surprise us. Murphy’s attitude towards the story is atypical; but the more outstripped he is, the sooner we plunge into the story. Rebecca Hall’s magnetic beauty undoubtedly helps us enter the inner story. Notwithstanding, we know several similar plots — such as Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others or M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense — but still by watching The Awakening we have another chance to recall the childlike fears, games and excitement that accompanies both. What is most important, while analyzing the boarding school ghosts’ case, Florence starts to unveil her own childhood. Bearing in mind what has happened in the past, she starts to understand the present. Moreover, her emotional coldness becomes displaced by thirst and sensual passion that has been growing between her and professor Mallory.
However, neither love nor lust can make Florence feel at home in Rookford. Therefore, the final turn could be the most intriguing and worthwhile –- as with every change that puts life on its new course –- if only Murphy would not give up the reigns and make the ending the most pretentious sequence of the film at the same time…