The Awakening (2011) [REVIEW]

the awakening movie poster rebecca hall

 

I think I had heard about The Awakening because it made an appearance on an end of the year list, specifically pointing out the strength of Rebecca Hall‘s performance. As soon as I heard that, I thought, “Rebecca Hall? Delivering a great performance? Now this I’ve GOTTA see!”, quickly followed by, “Wait, who the fuck is Rebecca Hall and why do I give a shit that she’s doing a good job?” Upon further investigation, it turns out that Rebecca Hall was in The Town, which was pretty good, and The Prestige, which was awesome. Good job, Rebecca! Being a ghost story that takes place in the early 20th century in a remote part of England caused me to draw early comparisons to The Others, so can we just move on from that? I don’t want to compare the two, because it obviously has things in common with that movie. Can we put that behind us now, guys? And not compare the two anymore? OKAY GOOD, THANKS, GLAD THAT’S OUT OF OUR SYSTEMS. Something that I think is kind of crazy about both movies is their setting. These movies are basically filmed in mansion castles that STILL EXIST. And they are places that people, at least at one point, LIVED IN. I don’t know how you could live in one of those insanely giant places and expect spooky shit NOT to happen. Add to that the fact that they are real places that you can go and visit and shoot a movie in. That’s so cool. Point is, who wants to go on a vacation to visit spooky old Victorian houses? I’m looking at you, Rebecca Hall. As a warning, this one will probably be a little more spoiler heavy than other reviews, and a big part of that is because of how the ending was handled. If you like Victorian era ghost stories, then I think it’s worth checking out.

 

THE AWAKENING

I feel like most people look at Dominic West and think of The Wire, but to me, he’ll always be Jigsaw.

It’s ye olde England(e) and we get to see a creepy, stereotypical seancé taking place. Right as the expected ghost shows up, Florence (Rebecca Hall) jumps up from her chair to expose all the parlor tricks being used to scare the participants, proving the whole thing to be false. Despite not believing in ghosts or the spirit world, Florence accepts a ghost investigation proposed to her by Robert (Dominic West) as it’s taking place at a school for young boys. Florence has written about how horrible it is to be a scared child, so she feels obligated to take the case. Shortly after her arrival and after she’s the victim of some “haunts”, a few of the younger boys and accept the blame for pulling pranks on other kids to cause the haunts. Once school is no longer in session and all the boys leave for a break, Florence continues to have strange experiences. The more time she spends there, the stranger experiences she starts having, but eventually one of the boys who has stayed there during the break comes out and explains things to her. It turns out that she used to live in the house that is now the boarding school, and the little boy who stayed behind is actually her half-brother…WHO WAS MURDERED! Yeah, he was a ghost. When she was a little girl, her father killed her mother, her half-brother, and then himself. It was such a traumatic event in her life that she had blocked it out (tying into her obligation to save children from traumatic events) and it was the ghost that manipulated things to get her to come back. Her former nanny (Imelda Staunton) is the one who set the whole thing in motion, because with Florence back, Maud’s son (who is Florence’s half-brother) will have someone to play with. Maud secretly poisons Florence to make sure she stays there forever, but when Florence explains how wrong the situation is to her half-brother, he races to get medicine to make her throw up the poison. We then see Florence and Robert at the school with the students returning and Florence talking about the next book she will write. The question remains: did Florence get the medicine in time or is she now a ghost?

 

the awakening movie rebecca hall feathers

Did I mention the horrifying bird massacre scene? JK guys, it was just pillows.

Oh great, the whole “this person has been a ghost the whole time but we’re only just now learning it at the end but we all kind of knew it the whole time” thing again. Even though we’ve seen this done before, I think the reason this theme is used so often is because it’s typically pretty successful. I didn’t predict right from the beginning where this movie was going, and it did take me enough by surprise to have not annoyed me or anything. The thing that I think made this movie stand out a little bit in the way the film ended was it’s commitment to ambiguity. The only characters who see Florence at the end of the movie, or at least the only two characters to acknowledge here, are a little kid, who had obviously already seen her ghostly half-brother, and Robert. The fact that she interacts with Robert might normally be a reveal that she did drink the medicine in time to puke up the poison, but considering Robert was a war veteran who had already expressed having psychological trauma and could see “ghosts”, it wouldn’t be surprising if Florence was just another ghost he could see. One issue I had with the movie, which is a complaint I make somewhat often, is that the movie could have been cut a little bit shorter. One thing that I left out of the summary is the fact that there’s also a caretaker at the school who tries to rape Florence, and when Florence defends herself, he ends up killing him. Kind of a big deal to have an event like that happen, but it really had NOTHING to do with the story. Cutting out just that entire character would’ve made for a much tighter story, in my opinion, and would have made this simple ghost story just a little bit more efficient. It’s still an entertaining ghost movie, which is why I’m making sure to give it a favorable review, but it might not hold up quite as well on repeat viewings as some other movies with similar themes.

 

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