Directed by Nick Murphy
Written by Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead Wright
Released: 11 November 2011
Running time: 1h 47min
No spoilers to be found here!
Do you like the sort of movies were you get to sink your teeth into a few characters visiting an isolated location and maybe solve a mystery or two? To be totally engaged in what the characters are doing and be scared along with them all the while leading up to a satisfying finale. Well, I really like those kinds of horror/thriller and was hoping that The Awakening was one of them. Whilst sporting a solid foundation, intriguing story and a good location, the film simply can’t keep it’s characters or storyline interesting, making The Awakening a bland and forgettable journey.
It is the year 1921, England is devastated by the losses of the first world war. Florence Cathcart (played by Rebecca Hall) makes a living by exposing bluffs. She gets an offer from Robert Mallory (played by Dominic West) to visit a isolated orphanage said to be haunted by a child ghost. Intrigued by the case, she accepts it, knowing little of how much this mystery will change her.
If you are like me, then that short synopsis will seem very enticing, an unsolved mystery, an isolated location and a daring heroine. Being the very reason I randomly selected this from the Netflix library, I have to say that I was disappointed by the overall plot. But nice things first, The Awakening starts off interesting and then successfully manages to build a pretty good feeling of suspense and intrigue. The use of an isolated orphanage might not be the most original of settings, but works very well for this sort of film. It is eerie and sad, which are major themes of the film and therefore fits really well.
Florence Cathcart is a strong and independent woman, leading a successful business as the interwar period Scooby Doo. She is a respectable character, especially for a time like this and Rebecca portrays this very well. Dominic West also turns in a likable performance as Robert Mallory, the head of the orphanage.
As The Awakening is a horror/thriller, you expect some scares. As mentioned, the film does build up some rather good suspense, were the film-makers then saw the use of the jump-scare technique in order to spook the audience. I have nothing against jump scares if they are well made, that is use the built up atmosphere to actually show the audience something horrifying that makes sense in the film. Bad jump scares usually take place in scenes that haven’t really built up any suspense and the reason you get scared is because they play a really loud sound effect and flash some unsettling imagery. After the shock wears off you are left angry since the film maybe lost some credibility or immersion in the process. The Awakening features a mix both good and bad ones, but I think the majority are good. The good jump scares in this movie use the built up suspense to their advantage and create some truly scary moments as well as continuing the storyline through their reveals. Sure, most of them are almost exactly stolen from the Spanish film “The Orphanage”, but they worked there and they still work here.
Like I said before, the use of an orphanage as a location creates an eerie and sad feeling, something that is reflected in the cinematography. The color is very dull, almost sepia-looking at times. They use long takes showing the empty plains surrounding the mansion and it all looks so sad and creepy. This makes The Awakening quite a sad experience, something that I think the creators were going for and succeeded. Good use of cinematography to reinforce the tone!
The music of The Awakening isn’t amazing, but I do think it fits pretty well with the movie. It manages to convey the same feelings as the rest of the film wants to and is in and off itself something you could listen to while doing something else (like writing a review for the actual film).
However, the rest of the film’s aspects are bad. The story tries to be a psychological thriller, which works in the first half, but then your realize that the screenplay tries to go for shock-value over substance. There are a lot of twists later on that make no sense for the story and after the initial shock you are just left irritated. A lot of the side characters in the film have strange quirks that are never explained, they are only there in order to create an uneasy feeling, making a lot of these character very unbelievable. This problem with the focus on shock-value also translates into some of the jump-scares, they make no sense and are only there to spook you, lacking any substance what so ever.
However, the biggest problem with The Awakening are the main characters, especially Florence Cathcart. She is very closed of in the beginning and as the movie goes on she opens up little by little. The problem is that her character is written very blandly, you have seen this type of strong independent woman before and it simply isn’t interesting to watch. The later part of the film are very dependent on her character and that you care about her but since you don’t the entire finale falls flat. I simply didn’t care at all about it, making for a very disappointing ending. The same goes for most of the other characters, but since they are mainly in the background it isn’t as bad as Florence.
The team behind The Awakening probably had a solid understanding of horror/thriller films, as it has an interesting mystery, a captivating locale and overall good technical aspects. You get pulled into this mystery and want to know how it will continue. But as you get further and further into the movie, you start to realize that most of the twists lack any substance what so ever and the characters are simply hollow shells with strange quirks. Then you get to the ending and are simply baffled by how little you care about anything at all, it all falls flat for you. The Awakening should get credit for it’s solid foundation and interesting first half, but as you get further behind the scenery you start to notice that most of everything here is hollow and lacking substance. If you are a die hard fan of horror/thriller you could still like the movie, but The Awakening is still a below average film that is easily forgettable. Music’s good though.
A Spanish horror/thriller and the film that The Awakening took most of its clever ideas from. Features a similar setting, story and mystery but is better done in every single way. The story is far better, the characters are great and the horror is consistently well made, heavily recommended if you like these kinds of films.
Cover image source: fanart.tv