In my journey to fill some horror gaps, I have yet to find a movie that was actually scary. Session 9 came the closest, but I might not have been as invested as the film wanted me to be in order to find the goings on truly creepy. Instead I just found the film to be an excellent study of a descent into madness. But with the Awakening, I got a true horror film.
Florence, played by the excellent Rebecca Hall, is a professional debunker of ghosts in early twenties London. She is called to a boarding school in order to investigate the killing of a young boy after he saw a ghost. But the investigation is more than what meets the eye. Things start to unravel for her once she figures out the human sham. She starts to see real ghosts.
This film is more about ghosts. It is about a country still reeling from the atrocities of World War I. Some small part of Florence doesn’t want to find out what is behind the ghost hoaxes she investigates. She wants to believe that there is a way to communicate with her dead loved ones. The teacher that comes to her for help, Robert Mallory, suffers from excruciating survivor guilt. His losses in fighting in the war had more impact then the damage that was done to his leg. The war is something that lingers in everybody’s minds. It informs every emotion they have, every tick they generate, even what they choose their profession to be. The past haunts them just as much as the ghosts do.
The Awakening is very effective for the first two acts. The heavy sense of loneliness, coupled with the creepy setting in a maudlin estate and the mystery combine together to really creep me out. But once the third act starts, the horror and the mystery fall apart. The filmmaker takes on a couple too many revelations and twists for the story to hold any weight. The digital effects were also I felt unneeded. What is more scary than a child that no one else can see? Do we really need a digital smearing of his face to heighten that tension? I personally would say no.
This movie could easily be put in the same camp as The Others or The Orphanage and I would welcome it there. Despite its third act problems, I found this film to be my favorite of all the horror films I watched this month. Florence is an interesting enough character to solider through mere plot holes and bad effects.