‘The Awakening’ with Rebecca Hall Will Put You to Sleep

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – There a lot of sighs and longing looks in the new horror film “The Awakening” (and good luck trying to distinguish between the generically-titled “The Apparition,” “The Possession,” and this one — all in theaters). This disappointing attempt at an atmospheric ghost story tries to tell a tale that first feels like a haunting from within. Survivor’s guilt and depression lead people to such depths of sadness that it is like they are ghosts themselves and perhaps more susceptible to visitors from beyond the grave. Or is that what this story is about? This potentially strong foundation for a ghost story dissipates as “The Awakening” gets less interesting as it becomes more supernaturally dramatic and builds to a generic twist ending.

“The Awakening” is one of those ghost stories in which characters say things like “I don’t think there’s a place on Earth where people understand loneliness better than here.” Everything is so steeped in depression, guilt, loneliness, and misery that it seems impossible for the light to get in and horror films never work if there’s no light to balance the dark. “The Awakening” becomes monotonous to the point that it is more likely to put you to sleep than put the fear of the other world into your soul.

The Awakening
The Awakening
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group

Rebecca Hall does nothing wrong (the underrated actress rarely does) but can’t bring to life the character of Florence Cathcart, a writer who has worked hard to expose the real-life hoaxes behind most reports of supernatural activity. In 1921 England, the country is still recovering from the pain and death of World War I, making it ripe for both real ghosts and those looking to take advantage of emotional turmoil. Cathcart clearly houses personal secrets but she tries to leave them at the door of a creepy boarding school when Robert Malory (Dominic West of “The Wire”) asks for help investigating the death of a child there and the consistent reports of a ghostly urchin. Of course, what’s happening at the school and the ghosts of Cathcart’s past will soon merge into one story.

Like all ghost stories, “The Awakening” starts slowly. The first act of the piece has a strong sense of atmosphere as Florence meets the teachers (including a housekeeper played by the great Imelda Staunton) and begins her investigation. It’s a creepy old house masquerading as a boarding school and director Nick Murphy has a strong sense of setting for about half an hour. I was with the film as Florence investigated shadowy reflections, ringing bells, and secret cabinets.

The Awakening
The Awakening
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group

Sadly, the tone of the set-up of “The Awakening” can’t be maintained as Murphy’s story heads off into ridiculous directions as it is forced to explain its mysteries. As with so many ghost stories, “The Awakening” becomes less scary and less interesting as it reveals its secrets. A strange sound in the middle of the night when no one is home is terrifying. The explanation of that sound is always decidedly less so. And the explanation of “The Awakening” doesn’t have nearly the emotional impact or wow factors as the producers might believe. As “The Awakening” became less atmospheric, I cared increasingly less as well.

It doesn’t help that there have been so many great horror films set in orphanages (see “The Devil’s Backbone” and, while not directly set in its title location, the brilliant “The Orphanage” for two of the best) and that even the film’s title sounds like it was pulled from a machine. Wikipedia lists 13 films named “The Awakening” from a Bollywood documentary to a straight-to-DVD thriller to a porno. You haven’t heard of most of them as they’re probably pretty forgettable. In that sense, this one lives up to its title.

“The Awakening” stars Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, and Imelda Staunton. It was written by Stephen Volk & Nick Murphy and directed by Murphy. It opens in Chicago on August 31, 2012.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

ziggy one of the best's picture

"The Awakening"

This movie did the old haunted house premise, which put me to sleep!

Manny be down's picture


This movie started slowly, and sad to say, ended slowly!

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