Tuesday, July 24, 2012
The Awakening (2011)
The Awakening starts off as an interesting period piece and haunted house thriller. Full of intensity and moments that make you want to grab a pillow and bring it to your face in hysterics, it was gunning for entry into my list of favorite haunted house spookers. And then the bottom drops out with its completely emotionless and nonsensical ending.
It's just after World War I in England and many of its inhabitants have become affected by widespread influenza. Our story itself, centers on a young woman named Florence who verifies the veracity of people's ghostly claims. Or rather she invalidates them as she isn't much of a believer and has written a well publicized book on how science can explain all things. Basically, their experiences are a bunch of hooey and she works to expose them as frauds.
A teacher at a local boys boarding school comes by her home to ask for her help. He talks about the history of the school and shows her pictures which contain a ghostly image of a little boy who's appeared in class pictures over the years. As the story goes, the boy was murdered there but why exactly no ones knows nor does much information exist about who owned the estate previously. Reluctantly, Florence agrees to help out the pleading teacher after he reveals that an asthmatic child was literally scared to death at the sight of the ghost.
Upon arriving at the boarding school, she is greeted by Maud, a nice old woman who oversees the care of the boys, making sure they get three squares a day. The boys adore her and she treats each one as she would her own son. So it comes as no surprise that she is worried about the spirit who is haunting the school, scaring kids to death in the process. Florence assures her that she has nothing to fear and she promptly gets to work setting up her homemade ghost hunting devices.
Our creeping fear starts as we first hear bumps and thumps and then see prolonged camera shots that stare down dark hallways. Things then give way to multiple ghostly appearances and a dollhouse which looks like the home itself. It's complete with figurines that look like the current inhabitants, posed in positions, and acting out events almost in real-time. It's enough to make you squirm along with the hair on the back of your neck standing up.
But as our story progresses, things begin to unravel and not in a good way. The boy who Florence befriends while doing her ghost hunting isn't all that he seems to be and we are clued into the history of the home. In particular, it involves Florence and some very repressed memories. How it fits into the context of the film makes little sense and there is no emotional weight as the events which occurred previously aren't thoroughly explained. Think The Others but with very little care or intrigue.
The Awakening looked to be very promising and it does a lot of things right: great atmosphere, tension, and if you are going to film a period piece/countryside haunted house story, cinematography is key. It was really fantastic. But egads, that ending! It really is the film's undoing and it brings the entire affair down so badly, it makes it hard to recommend.
Cortez the Killer