Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Awakening

Directed by Nick Murphy.
2012. Rated R, 107 minutes
Isaac Hempstead Wright
Lucy Cohu
Ian Hanmore
Cal Macaninch
John Shrapnel
Richard Durden

At the very beginning of The Awakening, we’re filled in on what’s been happening in our setting, early twentieth century London. People have been dying left and right with their demises being blamed on ghosts. Florence Cathcart (Hall) doesn't buy any of this. When we meet her, she’s busting up the operation of some phony medium. She’s also a best-selling author, having written a book definitively concluding there is no such thing as a ghost. Her book is so good, we’re told several times that most people keep it right next to their Bible. This makes zero sense because she clearly states that she has no use for religion, doesn't believe in God, or an after-life of any sort and implies that this is also made transparent in the book. Last I checked, Christians weren't too fond of such declarations, but whatever.

The point of it all is that Florence is hired to investigate the possible existence of a ghost at a boarding school for boys after one of its students has inexplicably died. Naturally, since the class photo from every year shows the same ghostly image, this is thought to be the work of some supernatural force. Within a few short scenes, our heroine solves the mystery of the boy’s death in a way awfully reminiscent of an episode of Scooby-Doo. The only thing missing is her unmasking the villain who then proclaims “I would've gotten away with it, if it weren't for you meddling kids!” But of course, strange things keep happening and the movie goes on. And on.

The rest of our time is spent is this dreary school watching Florence set traps for the alleged ghost, hearing noises and seeing the fleeting image of a little boy. It should go without saying she tries to follow the lad only to be led, inevitably, to a room with a large dollhouse. When she looks inside she sees the most recent events depicted with startling accuracy. Creepy. Oh, along the way she falls in love with Robert (West), the guy who hired her. She also befriends Maud (Staunton), the lady who seems to do everything inside the building and Tom (Wright), a friendless boy who likes talking to adults.

All told, it’s a very “meh” experience. The biggest problem is, as frightened as Florence gets, she never really appears to be in any danger. She seems to be cracking up, but that’s about it. The only question is whether or not this is a real ghost. Without her life being on the line it doesn't feel like that pressing an issue, either. Rebecca Hall plays the role well, but the situations are a tad benign to draw us to the edge of our seats.

Alas, we find out Florence’s life really is threatened. Here, the movie takes a bizarre turn that includes an attempted rape, single-person ping pong, another trip to the dollhouse and poisoning. This is all welcome because the pace thankfully picks up from the dreadfully slow trudge we've been enduring, even though it doesn't make a bunch of sense. The ending is confusing as we’re sure of one thing, but not another. When the credits roll, it feels like we've watched a rip-off of The Sixth Sense. Judging by that movie’s lofty status with critics and regular folk alike, most of you might feel that’s a good thing. Not to be a contrarian, but I didn't like The Sixth Sense. And since a copy is never as sharp as the original, I like The Awakening even less.

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