Every year, my family has a tradition that on Halloween we watch a scary movie. Some years, it's been something like "Jaws" or "Ghostbusters," neither of which really classify as "scary movies." This year, thanks to instant Netflix, we decided to watch a movie called "The Awakening," which is a few years old, but it was new to me.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
"The Awakening" is a film done by BBC and stars Rebecca Hall (known for her roles in "The Prestige" and "Iron Man 3") as Florence, a woman living in 1920's England who makes a living debunking the supernatural, like seances and houses that are supposedly haunted. Florence is approached by Mallory (portrayed by Dominic West), a teacher at a boarding school for boys who says that the place is haunted by the ghost of a boy who was murdered years earlier, back when the school was a house owned by a wealthy family. Florence, of course, believes science can explain it and goes, but she finds herself believing that something really is wrong. Meanwhile, she seemingly has her own demons to deal with.
The story had an interesting premise and could have been something good, but I found that it quickly grew twisted and was filled with red herrings. At first, it looked like your average ghost/ haunted house movie with the unexplained happenings like a ghostly figure running around the school or mysterious voices when no one seems to be around. Then, after the first night, things started turning a little strange. Like the mysterious hand in the pond (was it the ghost's or Mallory's?), the ever-changing scenes in the doll house, and then the scenes where it seems like Florence is going insane or the people at the school seem to be manipulating the situation. It seemed like the scenes were added for the jump/creepy factor but like the writers did not really have anything in mind as to what was really going on. Then some scenes didn't seem to fit at all, like when Florence is attacked by Judd; I was confused as to what was going on, and it didn't seem to add anything to the overall story. Then, as it is in most stories like this, there is a big reveal. A boy Tom that Florence has befriended turns out to be the ghost of her dead half-brother, the secretive maid Maude turns out to be Tom's mother and Florence's long-lost nanny who wanted her to remember what happened when she was younger, and the supernatural happenings were either Tom running around or Florence's repressed memories of a murder-suicide from her childhood. It was all rather strange and didn't make much sense. This is in sharp contrast to "Sixth Sense" and "The Others," both ghost movies that were far more cohesive and made sense by the end of it. Then you have the last scene in the kitchen (which did not fit in at all) and the last scene of the movie which was extremely ambiguous (and not like Christopher Nolan's films) and fell apart.
Another problem I had was a couple of scenes with sexual/partial nude content that had no real place in being in the film. This includes Mallory's scene in the bathroom where he tends to his war wound, that long scene with Florence in the bathroom (before the creepy events start happening), and then the unnecessary sex scene, which falls into the category of "worst times to have sex." Those three scenes could have been redone or outright deleted, as they did not add anything to the film. It felt like they were added to give the movie its R-rating.
The characters were ok, but nothing about them was particularly memorable. I'm a bit haunted by Imelda Staunton's creepy housekeeper role and will never look at Miss Pole from BBC's "Cranford" the same way again. One thing that confused me about the chars is that Florence supposedly had a lover named Robert who died in World War 1, and Mallory also has the first name (and he ironically becomes Florence's lover) of Robert and who also fought in World War 1. Was Robert even real? If he was, then it was sloppy of the writers to have Mallory and Florence's lover have the same name.
Now for two positive parts of the film.
The camerawork and atmosphere was well-done. It reminded me quite a bit of the BBC period dramas and definitely had the creep-factor. Some of the silent shots that showed off the landscape or the school/house were also pretty. The choral soundtrack also added to the atmosphere, and I'll never sing "Be Still, My Soul" in church again without thinking of this movie. Unfortunately, these two things could not save the film.
In the end, I was disappointed. I had hoped that it would be something like "Sixth Sense" or "The Others," but "The Awakening" felt more like a shoddy attempt to imitate those two and couldn't stand on its own two feet. Which was a shame, because it could have been something much better.
I give it 2 out of five stars.
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