Welcome to the first of Fanboy Confidential’s Mayhem Halloween specials, coming to you from the Mayhem Horror Film Festival in Nottingham, England. Last night saw the opening of the festival with a pre-release screening of the British ghost story, The Awakening, introduced by writer/director Nick Murphy and followed by a Q&A. Nick was a pleasant fellow and talked passionately about a film he’s clearly proud of, but what do we think?
In 1920’s England séances are commonplace as a country in mourning seeks comfort and understanding. Here educated young woman, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), outs the phony mediums as a way of exorcising her own demons. When asked by a country school Master (Dominic West) to ply her trade at his supposedly haunted boarding school, to settle the minds of the young residents, Florence finds her flat skepticism put to the test.
With very few exceptions ghost story films have twist endings. Some are entirely reliant on them (The Sixth Sense, The Others, Haunted) others less so (The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone). It’s become a near cliché in the horror sub-genre, but one that we’d fell cheated out of if it weren’t there. Let’s face it, finding out WHY a place is haunted is a fine mystery, and mysteries lend themselves well to ‘shock’ twists, a thousand Scooby Doo episodes have shown us that, but I dare say that now we automatically go into these films, if not looking for the twist, then certainly expecting one.
It’s no spoiler then to mention that The Awakening is not one of the exceptions, in fact, with its country/period setting, it’s familiar in many ways.
Being British and period based, it, of course, looks beautiful and lavish, with rich, textured sets and costumes, but it also, for the most part, is sensibly subdued, which though building an uncomfortably formal atmosphere is a bit of a hindrance to the ‘shock’ sequences, which aren’t incredibly affecting.
The acting is uniformly good, with Rebecca Hall (Starter For Ten, The Town) and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake, Harry Potter) reliable as always and Dominic West in the best form he’s been in since The Wire.
As far as the writing goes, it’s not the most original piece in the world but the dialogue is good and the drama, which is heavily relied upon, is fully fleshed out and does its job quite adequately. And the twist? Well, it requires a reasonable amount of explanation (not Luck Number Slevin levels of explanation, but quite a bit) but it works; whether it is satisfying depends entirely on how neatly you like your story to be tied together.
The Awakening then is a perfectly entertaining and lovely looking film that blazes very few trails. It’s comfortably familiar and those of a more nervous disposition may find it quite jumpy but there isn’t much to cater to the hardened horror fan.
C- grade – for originality
B- grade – for story telling
B grade – for acting
B grade – for visuals
C- grade – for horror content
Overall grade – C
Watch the trailer.