The Awakening

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

1921: England. Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a published author on supernatural hoaxes who works with the police to expose charlatans and debunk supernatural phenomena, having begun her foray into her profession upon the death of her lover in World War I. Upon a visit from Robert Malory (Dominic West), a teacher from a boarding school with the request to investigate the recent death of a student and how it is related to sightings of a ghost of a child, she travels to the school hoping to explain the sightings and the death. The ghostly sightings are at first thought to be a prank played by one of the boys at the school. While Florence and Robert start developing a mutual attraction, the school is closed for holidays with the only occupants being Robert, Florence, Maud (Imelda Staunton) the housekeeper and Tom, a lonely child, who tells Florence his parents live in India which takes too long for him to travel to. As unexplained supernatural events start to manifest, it is revealed towards the end that Tom is a ghost and is Florence’s half brother and Maud’s son. Florence and Tom grew up in the house that is now a boarding school. While Florence and Tom were young, their father became mad and killed Florence’s mother, Tom and himself while also trying to kill Florence. Florence had blocked these memories of her childhood. Maud, who also sees Tom, explains that Tom is lonely and that he needs his family; Maud poisons herself and Florence, intending for their ghosts to join Tom. Florence, however, tells Tom that she will not be happy if she dies now and that she will always be with Tom. Tom then helps Florence by bringing her medicine to throw up the poison.

There is ambiguity about whether she survives: in the closing scene, the headmaster speaks of her as if she is not there, and only a lonely child (of the kind who could see Tom) acknowledges her. On the other hand, she talks about the chauffer waiting for her and writing a new book. She promises Malory to visit him ‘Saturday week’ before setting off. Maud and Tom are gone, and she says though she can’t see them, they are not forgotten, raising the possibility they are now at peace.


Someone recommended The Awakening to me after they heard me rave about the TV series Red Dwarf. What the connection is, your guess is as good as mine, because I never saw it, other than the face they are both from the BBC.

What is this about?

In post-World War I England, a boarding school haunted by a boy’s ghost calls on Florence Cathcart, who disproves hoaxes for a living. But Cathcart senses something truly strange about the school, leading her to question her belief in the rational.

What did I like?

Crescendo. The most effective horror/thriller films are those that gradually build toward the finale, rather than laying all the cards on the table early on. While I would have liked for this film to move a bit faster, I appreciated the way it developed, complete with twists, turns, and red herrings that are sure to throw viewers into a frenzy of confusion. Isn’t that what we really want from a film like this, though?

Ending. Not to spoil anything about the ending, but there is a big revelation that leads to certain actions which call into question the true fate of the characters. Watching the ending you can’t really tell what they’re ultimate fate was, but the fun is in trying to figure it out.

Atmosphere. For some reason, the time around WWI has always creeped me out and I can’t really tell you why. I believe it has something to do with the way it is portrayed as a time when medicine was still fairly primitive, coupled with the sadistic way doctors were known to torture and experiment on their patients and it is no wonder I am not really a fan of this era. The setting provides the perfect backdrop for this film.

What didn’t I like?

Cathcart. I wasn’t feeling any kind of emotional connection to the film’s lead, played by Rebecca Hall. She just wasn’t sympathetic. I believe this was  due to poor writing and/or character development because by all accounts, there should be some feeling for her after all she has been through, culminating in the loss of her husband in the war.

Boys will be boys. The strange thing about this film is that it doesn’t allow for the boys to be fleshed out as mischievous boys the way that they probably should have. Can you honestly sit there and tell me that these boys would not have gotten into trouble while in this school? I think not! I wish that would have been expanded upon, and perhaps tied to the investigation.

Ghostface. In pictures, we see the ghost. Ms. Cathcart happens to see him quite often, but the audience never really gets a decent look at him. It is apparent that something happened to his face, probably in life, but we never know what it is because the filmmakers chose not to allow us a good view. I wish they would’ve reconsidered that notion.

The Awakening is one of those films that I took a chance on, hoping to find a diamond in the rough, but it was just not to be. I didn’t hate this film. As a matter of fact, I find it to have been extremely well-made, but I found it hard to get into and connect with. Do I recommend this? Yes, if you are a fan of supernatural horror/thrillers, then you may enjoy this.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars


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