Review: The Awakening

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?

The story…

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.


The review…

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.


A UK based Contributor; Richard Reynolds splits his time writing articles and interviews for Fanboy Confidential with running his own comicbook shop, Ground Zero Comics, as well as sticking his thumb in far too many pies, including illustration, writing and filmmaking, he also consumes fiction in all its forms like its going out of fashion.


  • October 28, 2011

    Erin Kubinek

    The trailer made me instantly think of ‘The Haunting” from 1995 with Kate Beckinsale (which is a favorite that i am now reminded I need on a newer format that VHS lol) . So while I THINK I can guess the twist, I still want to see it just from the trailer alone. This kind of film are a favorite of mine. A Solid C is all I really expect of them too.

  • October 29, 2011


    Yeah, it’s in no way a bad movie, it’s just y’know, it’s all kinda been done now. I can always enjoy a good looking movie though, and this one looks a treat.

  • November 12, 2011


    IS SHE DEAD OR ALIVE IN THE END? Please post your answer with valid evidence…

  • March 16, 2012


    She is DEAD. After she said she was going to write another book …he said God help us…they turn around …she grabbed his arm ..holding on. As they passed the kid ….she was not there you only see him as he alone walks by.

  • March 16, 2012


    Hmmm I beg to differ. I found this thread looking for a forum that would explain definitively one way or the other. Initially the end left me in some doubt (as the maker no doubt intended), so I went back to the ending and watched it again looking at the arm holding as mentioned by Car5701 but found I could explain that. As they turned to walk back toward the school, Robert had asked little red haired Victor to tie his laces & he continues walking. Upon Robert’s instruction, Florence then stops (audio confirms two peoples footsteps initially then one set stops as Robert’s keep going). Fiendishly clever that the writer leaves us guessing as Victor is the lonely teased boy, and only the lonely see the ghosts.

    Further evidence that she is indeed alive is the fact that she takes his cigarette & smokes it.

  • March 22, 2012


    My gut feeling says that she is dead, but the conversation between the headmaster and the teacher don’t seem to acknowledge her as dead, but imply that she held an influential part in Maud’s death. Also, at the very end of the film before it cuts out- she says good bye to a group of people and one of the boys turns his head and acknowledges her. One other factor to take into mind- is that ghosts in movies don’t usually leave the premises; and she walked allll the way up to the gate just to turn around. I’m not entirely sure here. I just wanted to give some imput. ;p

  • July 29, 2012


    I think she is dead and also the main character is dead.
    I’ve been sitting here thinking about the end and the only clear thought is that he saw her dead on the floor ( she didn’t vomit out the poison, it’s not on the floor)
    When he see’s her he takes the poison too. It explains a lot of what happens at the end including the look on the lonely boys face when he is told to do up his shoe lace.
    Just thought I’d pitch something into the mix.

  • September 29, 2012


    So, the first thing he says is “I know you’re there” to which she replies “that’s more than your headmaster does” which makes us think she’s dead, right? But then she takes his smoke and starts smokin’ it. fine, maybe that’s something we can dismiss… but it makes us feel relieved, like- Oh, thank goodness, she’s not dead… she’s smoking. But then, yeah, like someone else wrote, when they pass the lonely kid with the untied shoe lace, only the man passes in front of the camera lens. however, that’s because she’s held back from the frame and the kid and her acknowledge eachother. at this point we’re all… i have no idea if she’s alive! this doesn’t prove anything, because as we’ve established… lonely boys see ghosts. Well, people, here’s the biggie. if you watch until the very last seconds of the very last scene… while she’s walking away alone (which makes you think- hey…she’s dead, he didn’t wave her off or walk her down the lane) she turns briefly and says hi to a boy who is standing with his folks and another boy. she says “hello” and he snaps his head toward her and says “hello”. and this is all casual, and beautifully painful because it makes you wait until, literally, the last 2 seconds of the film to know. also, i loved how quiet and subtle it was. this makes it easy to miss, but i was so desperate to know if she was alive or dead that i was hanging on every single frame, every movement. so, yeah… she lived, but the film makers really made us squirm to the very end.

  • October 2, 2012


  • January 19, 2014


    I was curious too. So I searched for hours and finally found an actual interview with the director. She is alive. Ive linked the source below:

  • January 19, 2014


    I was curious too. So I searched for hours and finally found an actual
    interview with the director. She is ALIVE. I was on the fence and I am so glad I found an answer, it would have driven me crazy trying to figure it out LOL. Ive linked the source below: