Monday, 14 November 2011

The Awakening




Waking Dreams

The Awakening 2011 UK
Directed by Nick Murphy
Screening at UK cinemas.

Warning: Silently stalking spoilers will rise up from
this article to haunt the doll’s house of your mind.

Okay, there are good and bad things sharing the load in equal number in The Awakening... not to be confused with the second of the three adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Jewel of the Seven Stars, which shares the same title as this movie.

The real problems this film has, if you agree it has any problems at all, lie within the script but only, it seems to me, in terms of the story and not the dialogue. I got a real split reaction to this movie but, overall, I think the positives on this one far outweigh the, frankly inevitable, negative points about this piece.

So let me share with you first, by way of showing you why this movie is worth seeing, the main positive on offer here. The main, central character... and she really is the main character as she’s pretty much in almost every shot apart from a few establishing shots and a couple of minor sequences where the camera has to follow another character... is something of a great, literary pulp creation and it’ll be a shame if this movie is the only thing this character ever turns up in. The character’s name is Florence Cathcart and I don’t care if she turns up again in a film, a TV series, a series of novels or what... this character is great and I want more of her.

Florence Cathcart, who I might normally call the main protagonist but in this case I’ll make and exception and call her... our heroine, is a professional sceptic. Set in 1921, a few years after she loses her lover to World War I, Miss. Cathcart makes her living by publishing her books about her exploits as... well... as a professional sceptic I guess would be an apt term. That is to say, she goes around with various parapsychology detecting equipment and disproves the existence of the ghostly and, often, exposing fraudulent practitioners of spiritualist endeavours who are out to make a quick buck off of the less fortunate.

And this is, in fact, how our story starts... by setting up the character and showing her breaking up a spiritualist seance. In this opening sequence, we see we have a director who knows how to be efficient with his cinematic shorthand. We see the seance as it takes place, see Florence expose them and call in the police, see the culprits taken away and then, in a brilliant little moment, we see her slapped in the face in a really great little cinematic “jump” shot and this shows the way in which, even the people whom she has saved from throwing away good money after bad, resent her from taking away their illusions of an afterlife... and then this basic set up is used to depict the distressed/depressed darker part of Cathcart’s character... it’s all filmed in the most economical manner. Florence is played quite brilliantly by actress Rebecca Hall who delivers some quite intelligent and witty dialogue against some other quite splendid actors and actresses which, at the same time, also manages to add real depth to the character... a character who, we will later find out, we know nothing about really after all.

However, if the script is brilliant in terms of dialogue and the way it informs the characters, it lacks in other areas because, frankly, it’s very unlikely that anything much in this movie is going to take you by surprise and, although I am blaming the writing for this (obviously) I do feel, since I did have a good time with this movie, that it’s not entirely the fault of the people writing this film.

You see, the plot of this one involves our newly established and cynical heroine called in to help the teachers and boys in a boarding school rid themselves of the ghost who has been appearing in their school photos for years on end and who seems to have killed someone recently... and herein lies the problem with what ails the script. The trouble with these kinds of ghostly, haunted house horror films is that the audience, whether they are aware there’s going to be some kind of twist or not, are always on the lookout for any such twist to occur, often without even knowing about it... and more often than not (and such is the case on this one I’m afraid) the audience are going to guess the nature of the twist as soon as they see the first sign of a clue and these kinds of movies don’t really have a lot of options anyway when it comes to tricks up their sleeve. In this one, for example, I was already on my guard before Florence had even arrived at the school, taking part in that old horror film favourite of “trying to spot the character who isn’t actually alive”... and I have to say, it didn’t take me very long, on that characters first shot, in fact, before I’d spotted our undead friend and started trying to unravel the second big twist I knew would be coming after that.

I don’t want to spoil it too much for anyone who’s not seen it yet but I will say that the solution to the mystery at the heart of the movie is pretty obvious... but I also have to say that, even when you’ve put all the pieces together in your head, the sleight of hand in this one is such that you will probably forget about them or dismiss them as too obvious before they’re actually revealed... and that’s what horror films of this nature are all about really isn’t it? Sleight of hand?

Now there are some wonderful sequences in this film... including an absolutely brilliant set of rooms within a doll's house which mirror the haunting sequences which have just taken place... and it is such a brilliant and simple idea (however obvious). The heroine sees the scenes including the little recent episodes of “encounters” (even those from just 30 seconds before she starts looking in the doll's house)... only to eventually come to a room which has her looking in the doll's house... with a ghostly figure standing just behind her. Real nape of the neck stuff people. Very much from the Shirley Jackson/Steven Moffett school of... “never mind worrying about if it’s going to happen, it’s already happening, you just haven’t realised it yet” school of “fright delivering”. It has to be said though, The Awakening does tend to overplay its hand just a little too much as it gets closer to the actual reveal.

But the great thing about this movie is... it doesn’t matter! This film has great acting, great dialogue, sure and steady (nothing too flashy) but nicely composed camerawork and even a nice, haunting score going for it. And even though you know it’s going to be a bit obvious... the eerie atmosphere and occasional jump scares are so well done that you shouldn’t go away feeling too disappointed by the film. And did I mention it has a great character who, although she will go on a journey of self discovery as the film progresses (it’s in the title people!)... really should come back in something else please. Preferably as played by the delightful Rebecca Hall who really elevates this movie from being a competent time at the movies to a fun time at the cinema. Definitely one to watch out for if you are into your chilly, gothic hauntings. Give it a go.

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