Superior British period ghost story sets a tone of creepy unease
(15) 107 mins
There’s been a glut of cinematic ghost stories this year. Whereas the likes of Paranormal Activity 3 and Insidious often rely on jump scares and cheap parlour tricks however, The Awakening goes in the opposite direction, letting the story unfold to reveal the horrors within.
The location and period setting work in The Awakening’s favour. Set in 1921, shortly after World War I and the subsequent flu epidemic, it is a world where everyone has been touched by death’s cold hand. Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) has set herself up as a rationalist ghost buster debunking false claims of the supernatural when school master Robert Mallory (Domnic West) invites her to investigate the death of a young boy at a boarding school housed in a creaky gothic mansion. She sets about her investigations, bringing her scientific methods to bear on the rumours of a ghost boy terrifying the pupils, but is soon drawn into a darker tale embedded in the house’s history.
Deliberately old fashioned, evoking films such as The Innocents, The Haunting and The Others, The Awakening isn’t about special effects but rather setting a tone of creepy unease, whilst being beautifully filmed, with a muted grey colour palette adding to the murkiness. Hall, West and Imelda Staunton (as a slightly creepy, perhaps over-friendly matron) all fully commit to the material and it’s these performances that sell the scares. The horror is rooted in psychological weaknesses, guilt and fear rather than low rent shock tactics. There are moments when it really works, a couple of clever reveals that create a mournful air of glacial horror, but there are also moments of muddled storytelling leading to an inconsistent final act with a few too many tricks we’ve all seen before. However, this is a classy British ghost story that delivers its fair share of chills.
Out now on general release. Thanks to Vue Omni, Edinburgh.