A polished but paint-by-numbers British chiller.
DIRECTED BY NICK MURPHY
Like February’s The Woman In Black, 2012’s second big-screen spook story from across the pond, The Awakening, is a visually polished period chiller that suffers from paint-by-numbers plotting. The former film sought to surmount its well-worn story by exploiting the inherent creepiness of its Victorian-era setting, making effective use of a foggy remote manse and a cast of unnervingly pallid, sullen children. The Awakening, set in 1921, adopts a similar strategy, with protagonist Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall)—a Sherlock Holmes-esque proto-ghostbuster—summoned to solve the mystery of an apparent haunting at a countryside boys’ boarding school.
Writer-director Nick Murphy also aims to supplement the scares with a welcome layer of character-driven drama, as Cathcart struggles to reconcile her staunch rationalism with an irrepressible desire to believe that the spirit of her lost lover, a casualty of the Great War, might somehow endure. Even as she strives to debunk the ghostly superstitions that have taken root in the wake of that hugely costly conflict, her actions betray a suppressed sense of guilt-ridden anguish.
Rather than the film’s thoroughly predictable jump-frights, it’s Cathcart’s internal conflict, rendered commendably by Hall, that is its most compelling element. It’s a pity, then, that Murphy declines to see this thread through to an organic outcome. Instead, he opts for a twist ending in the vein of The Others that fees ill integrated with what’s come before. If, in its portrait of mournful obsession, The Awakening threatens to become more than a straightforward genre exercise, Murphy ultimately supplies his film with a disappointingly generic conclusion.