The Awakening – film review

Theatrical poster for "The Awakening".
Theatrical poster for “The Awakening”.

The Awakening is a ghost story directed by Nick Murphy, starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, and Imelda Staunton, but let me save you some time. Don’t watch it.

The premise is at first interesting. Florence Cathcart (Hall) is a famous debunker who exposes spiritualists as frauds. Then she writes about her adventures and makes a very good living for herself. When Robert Mallory (West) invites her to investigate the death of a student from a boarding school and subsequent sightings of a ghost, she takes the case. What seems at first to be a hoax turns out to be a hoax, but there are supernatural shenanigans a-going on. (Cue spooky music).

For creepy ghost stories, The Awakening delivers in the middle of the movie. Unfortunately, all the character development messes everything up. Why have a spooky ghost story with a romance when you can make everybody more screwed up and twisted than the ghosts? There is murder and rape and sex followed by long, dull conversations at a kitchen table. Also, supernatural things happen for no reason.

This is par for the course with ghost stories. There is mystery, the long setup, and the reveal, but in this movie the ghost elements feel separate from the characters, as if they are in different movies. Take, for instance, a hand that pulls Florence off the dock into the lake. Nobody assumes she went for a swim, then changed her mind. Instead, they assume she tried to kill herself. Even Florence acts like she tried to kill herself. The hand did not exist.

The sex in the story is just as disconnected. Watch the sex scene between Florence and Robert and imagine them instead suddenly shouting “Pie!” then racing to the kitchen. The real scene seems just as silly. Now juxtapose all this adult silliness with a lone, remaining student running around and silly becomes disturbing.

Another notable scene that marks this movie as disturbing is when Florence decides to masturbate, but is interrupted by a sound on the other side of the wall. She investigates and discovers a peephole in the middle of the wall, as if nobody had ever noticed it being there before. If that weren’t implausible enough, she assumes it is Robert peeping on her, so instead of being creeped out like most people would be, she decides to give him a show. Unfortunately, the director knows what creepy truly is. The Peeping Tom is Li’l Shotgun Face.

Who is Li’l Shotgun Face? Oh yeah, that’s right. This was a ghost story about a dead student haunting the boarding school. I’m sorry. With Florence’s rape, and then murder of her assailant, scenes of Robert harming himself for surviving the war, inexplicable sex, and Maud Hill the psychopathic housekeeper, I forgot this was a movie about ghosts. Much to Florence’s surprise, there is an unexplainable person at the school. Although she wants to assume somebody is pulling pranks on her, it’s hard to expose a ghost with a sideways face as a fraud. It really puts Florence off her game.

By the time we discover Florence’s link to the boarding school, the secret of young Tom, his link to Li’l Shotgun Face, and what is wrong with Maud Hill, The Awakening is over. I found myself wondering, “Is Florence dead and now a ghost? Is she still alive but giving up her lucrative life to work at a dreary boarding school for some reason? Do I care?” It turns out that I didn’t, and you probably won’t either.

Release Date: November 11, 2011 (UK)
MPAA Rating: R

MySF Rating: Two point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 10%


Alcohol/Drugs: 2 (smokin’ & drinkin’)
Language: 1 (minor expletives, deity)
Nudity: 2 (bath scene)
Sexuality: 4 (sex, self-love, rape)
Violence: 4 (rape, gunplay, murder)

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