WHO you gonna call in 1921, as Ghostbusters meets Downton Abbey in the psychological chiller The Awakening, a classic British ghost story set in the aftermath of the First World War. Rebecca Hall (Frost/Nixon) stars as Florence Cathcart, a sceptical ghost hunter who reluctantly accepts an invitation to investigate strange goings on at Rockwood, a boarding school in the British countryside. The film deals with themes of loneliness and guilt as Florence’s investigations at Rockwood lead her to confronting her own personal ghosts.
The film is the feature debut for British director Nick Murphy who has previously worked within television and won a BAFTA award for his Iraq war drama Occupation. Murphy worked alongside writer Stephen Volk, notorious for the BBC Hallowe’en hoax Ghostwatch, on adapting the screenplay for The Awakening. Executive Producer, David M. Thompson said he was impressed by Murphy’s ‘energy and vision’ and saw Nick’s ability to bring out great performances from actors.
The film has a strong supporting cast including Dominic West (The Wire) who plays Mallory, a school master at Rockwood. Like Florence he is struggling to cope with loss and the two form a strong connection. Oscar nominated actress Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) plays the character of Maud Hill the matron of Rockwood, whose motivation for bringing Florence to Rockwood becomes clear as the story unfolds.
The Awakening is a ghost story similar to the 2001 Nicole Kidman chiller The Others. It has great performances and some genuine chills. Nick Murphy shows he can successfully make the jump from television to feature film with ease. It’s an interesting feature that explores the mindscape of post-war Britain, how the nation dealt with the unprecedented casualties of the Great War. If people allow themselves to be haunted by their past, then they themselves may as well be ghosts.
The old-fashioned feel of the film is its greatest strength but also its biggest weakness. It’s great to see a film that doesn’t rely on gore or torture porn to scare its audience, but there is the feeling that the film doesn’t bring anything new or original to the horror genre. While the film never rises to the levels of the 2007 Spanish chiller, The Orphanage it’s well worth a watch.
Review by James McClean