Title: THE AWAKENING
Cohen Media Group
Director: Nick Murphy
Screenwriter: Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 7/25/12
Opens: August 17, 2012
Any student taking Psych. 101 knows that an individual who has been traumatized can believe almost anything. The same applies to a nation. Great Britain, having lost one million people from influenza and World War I, went through a national grieving process illustrated on a small scale by director Nick Murphy in “The Awakening” by honing in on a séance. Seated at a long table with several others, one of whom kills and bleeds a bird, a woman whose son had been killed awaits his spirit only to be told by a skeptical woman that they’re all a bunch of charlatans. The woman, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is frequently introduced to us as one of the few educated people of her gender, having gone through Cambridge University (this is 1921).
To show how liberated she is, she wears slacks, smokes, lights her own cigarettes, and sometimes wears her hair down. Florence is a ghost-hunter, an author of a ghost-busting book, who wants to expose people to blunt reality. Told that kids at a boarding school believe in ghosts after one boy dies after viewing the spook of a murdered lad, she insists that there are “people believe in the tooth fairy, in Santa Claus, and some even believe in God.”
Florence, as played by Rebecca West—who has seen better roles such as that of Claire of Keesey in Ben Affleck’s bank robbery drama “The Town”—is about to get the shocks of her life, brought down to earth when she finds herself scared out of her wits by taking in hostile spirits, among which might be a contaminated glass of sherry. The problem with the movie is that we do not: there is perhaps one good scare in the entire picture when a quick collage of ghosts appears before us, each in a split second which is enough to recognize their identities.
Murphy, using a script he co-wrote with Stephen Volk, illustrates the action behind photographer Eduard Grau’s unfortunate and unnecessary filming in desaturated color. The atmosphere is moody—an estate, formerly privately owned, now a boys’ school at which all the pupils save one had gone home for mid-year vacation. Besides young Tom (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Florence deals daily with the school matron, Maud Hill (Imelda Staunton), the war-wounded Robert Mallory (Dominic West), sadistic teacher Malcolm (Shaun Dooley), and Judd (Joseph Mawle), an unpleasant groundskeeper who is shunned for having avoided service in the war.
The plot thickens as do the British accents, largely a confusing story until the final payoff unravels all. Things are not what they seem, young Tom and older Maud are exposed for what they are, and most of all the fearless smoker-with-hair-down-and-slacks becomes the most traumatized of all to the probable glee of those in the audience who like to bring such people down to earth.
See it for the performances of Rebecca Hall and the superb Imelda Staunton, but if you want scares, stick to the ghost ride in Coney Island.
Unrated. 106 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B
Technical – C
Overall – C+