Tuesday, October 22, 2013

halloween marathon: the awakening

A friend recommended The Awakening, a 2011 horror movie that might be right up my alley, and I'm glad he did. It's spooky, a little creepy, and not gory at all, which I'm more than O.K. with. It's a rather traditional period ghost story, along the lines of The Innocents or the recent Daniel Radcliffe starrer The Woman in Black. It features a strong female lead, Rebecca Hall, as a 1920s-era ghostbuster.

The film opens with Florence Cathcart (Hall), an author who exposes supernatural fraud, helping the London police bust a phony séance. But after she has exposed the crooked medium and a young, child accomplice, she is wracked with — guilt? disappointment? Frances has her own ghosts, which include a lover she jilted after he left to fight in the Great War — and subsequently died. But back to work. A handsome boarding school teacher and World War I veteran, Robert Mallory (Dominic West), comes to seek her help in either explaining or debunking a series of sightings of a mysterious child at the school. The teachers, students, and their parents are all rattled, especially since the recent death of a student named Walter.

Florence (Rebecca Hall) has cool tools for ghostbusting
Robert (Dominic West) fishes Florence out of the lake after a ghostly hand tries to pull her under
Tom (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Maud the housekeeper (Imelda Staunton)
Florence has all sorts of cool gizmos and gadgets to help expose what she assumes is a clever prankster. But after she sorts out some of the more easily solved mysteries she once again is hit by a melancholy — and the determination to find out what is behind some happenings that she can't explain. After most of the students go home for the holidays, Florence stays on with a skeleton crew — Robert, the housekeeper Maud (Imelda Staunton), a creepy groundskeeper named Edward Judd (Joseph Mawle) who is known to have dodged military service, and Tom (Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Bran from Game of Thrones), the one student who has stayed behind, as his parents are traveling in India. The amount of strange incidents increase, with Florence clearly the focus of a series of attacks.

The Awakening takes a few twists and turns in its final act which are the script equivalent of a scene of the ghost jumping out of the shadows. The twists are a bit far-fetched, but they also admittedly, work. The movie moves slowly, almost hypnotically, as Florence sorts out what is real, from the current demons haunting her, to the demons from her past which she must reconcile. Rebecca Hall (Please Give, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Prestige) has been a favorite actress for a while, and she really owns this movie. The camera loves her in close-up, watching her every move, as does her obsessed ghost, and the audience as well. Can a horror movie have a happy ending? Maybe, if the emphasis is on a woman truly coming into her own, on putting all of her ghosts behind her, and becoming truly independent of her fears and the past.


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