Winter and Christmas are traditionally times for ghost stories, and The Awakening is a classy one.
More than anything, that’s down to a sensitive, intelligent performance by Rebecca Hall as Florence Cathcart, blue-stocking author of Seeing Through Ghosts.
She’s a ghost-hunter who doesn’t believe in the paranormal, and is called in by a Cumbrian boys’ school, circa 1921, to solve the mystery of a boy ghost who may have frightened one of the pupils literally to death.Spooky: Rebecca Hall and Dominic West in the ghost story The Awakening which is out today
The headmaster is played by John Shrapnel; the schoolmaster with whom our heroine has the most rapport is Dominic West; and the matron who recommends they send for Florence is played by Imelda Staunton.
So, acting-wise, we’re in safe hands, and the child actors do their bit to make everything plausible too, especially Isaac Hempstead-Wright as the lonely Tom, who sees dead people.
The ultimate explanation leaves quite a few questions begging — I never did understand the mystery of the bulging pillow, or how and why the spooky dolls’ house kept moving from place to place, or indeed the rules governing the afterlife, and why some dead people haunt, while others don’t.'The ultimate explanation leaves quite a few questions begging'
Most of all, the script by Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk cheats the audience by withholding too much information about the heroine until too late. A better screenplay would have dropped a few more clues.
All the same, co-writer and director Murphy creates a genuinely spooky atmosphere. This is an old-fashioned horror film, in that it doesn’t rely on gore and mutilation for its thrills.
It’s in the tradition of M.?R. James and Algernon Blackwood. The recent films it most resembles are The Others and The Orphanage — though it’s not quite as frightening or effective as either. There are nasty shocks, but mostly the film delivers suspense, creeping unease and a leading performance that is well above average.