Thursday, October 3, 2013

Quick Cut Review: "The Awakening"

Directed by:  Nick Murphy
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton
Rated: R  
Runtime: 1 hour 47 minutes  
Release Date: August 12, 2012

The popular opinion in accordance with how to pull off a successful haunted house movie is that you need to create the right atmosphere for the proceedings, there needs to be an appropriately creepy location, just the right amount of mystery to be unraveled and a palpable sense of sustained tension throughout. That of course is just the basic ingredients needed, if your ambitions go beyond that then you will also need a capable cast, a good script and someone behind the camera who understands that its not what you see that scares you, its what you don't see.

The new-ish haunted house thriller The Awakening, which takes place post World War I in 1920's France at a children's boarding school, is a more than decent entry into the genre, which may sound like faint praise, but it isn't. As successful as it is at pulling all those elements mentioned above together for its first two thirds, it however falls off the rails towards the end in an attempt to distinguish itself by ditching the creepy bits and delving into more dramatic territory. This isn't so much a fault of the film since in retrospect it clearly establishes where it is going from the beginning, but anyone not expecting the turn the film makes at the end may be slightly disappointed by its scare-free finale.

Looking at the film for what it is as opposed to what you think it is though reveals a very stylish film that actually handles its 11th hour shift rather well. Anchored by a stellar cast, which includes Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton, authentic period set design and some gorgeous cinematography, the film captures that classic haunted house look and feel to near perfection even if it forgets that it is indeed a haunted house movie. The early sections of the film where Hall's character, a ghost hunter/de-bunker, stakes out the school late at night, evokes some effective chills through a very limited but impressive bit of sound design, but that is all we get as far as the expected scares go.

The Awakening is atmospheric, well acted, looks fantastic and weaves an interesting story, but its just not that scary when it comes down to it. When you are talking about a film that at first appears to be firmly rooted in the haunted house genre and then reveals itself to be something completely different, is somewhat problematic, despite how well its story is told. Your own tastes will ultimately dictate which side of the fence you fall on when it comes down to it, but the foundation is solid enough to recommend it for fans of the haunted house genre, despite its split personality issues.


If you are looking for a film that has all the hallmarks of a classic haunted house story but ultimately turns out to be something much more...dramatic, then give it a shot. Just know what you are getting yourself into and that will limit any possible disappointment you may experience when the film's last act kicks in.


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