For better or worse, an homage to the past decade of horror films.
August 17, 2012 3:04 pmLindsay Krämer
The Awakening is very much a product of its time. And by that I mean, aesthetically identical to every other horror movie I've seen that's been released since 2000. Muted colors? Check. Little dialogue? Check. Eerie background music that gains in tempo while the main character is walking through the dark toward whatever scary thing is about to pop out at him/her, only to have something totally mundane make a sudden movement and cause everybody to jerk in their seat? Check.
The Awakening is a British horror film that was released in 2011. It stars Rebecca Hall, Imelda Staunton, and Dominic West. It was released in a limited number of US theaters last weekend (August 10) and a few more, including mine, this weekend (August 17).
In 1921 England, Florence Cathcart (Hall) - often referred to as “Miss Catherine” in the movie - is an author and skeptic of the supernatural. Robert Mallory (West) seeks her help with uncovering the roots of the ghost boy that's been seen around the boarding school where he teaches. She travels to the school; the large, imposing, bleak school that we see in every movie involving a school, to prove that the ghost sightings and sounds are the work of a few prank-minded students. The student body is all boys, all around the age of ten. Staunton's character, Maud, is the school's housemaid and fully believes in the ghost boy's existence. She ends up playing a pretty major role in the movie, but I'm not going to give it all away.
Despite all the tropes I mentioned in the first paragraph, the plot was surprisingly unpredictible. Yes, you knew Florence and Robert would fall in love. But it's okay to give that away, because that's kind of a subplot. There are some interesting twists in the second half of the movie that make up for the slow pacing of the first half. This was definitely a tough movie to get into - I didn't know the protagonist's name for about the first twenty minutes or so. The little exposition it has begins with Miss Catherine at a séance, calling the medium's bluff. And that's all we get to know she's a paranormal investigator. We don't know if this is her first séance or she's been doing this for a while. Nothing, just end the séance, cut to the next scene. There's a very disjointed feeling about this movie and how the scenes relate to one another. Think of the same disjointedness they employed in Shutter Island, only less satisfying at the end.
I'd say the acting was alright. Staunton played a believable housemaid and turned out to be the most well-developed character. Hall and West both came across as a bit stiff. There was nothing particularly memorable about either of their performances, but nothing glaringly bad, either.
I think that's probably the best way to sum up The Awakening. Not glaringly bad, but nothing memorable. Yes, there was a cool plot twist toward the end. But leading up to it, you're walking through Jell-O. This story could definitely have been told in say, forty-five minutes to an hour. Too many of its 107 minutes were spent walking through dark corridors toward a scary part. And that makes you wonder, is it worth sitting through the first half to get to the plot twist? How cool is cool enough to justify say, an hour and a half of your time? A ten dollar movie ticket? For me, it wasn't worth it. I wouldn't see it again. At first I thought maybe someone who's really into the horror genre would enjoy this movie, but there's so many cliches that I think a hardcore horror fan would get a bit frustrated. It stumbles over its own artistic sensibility. By that I mean, this story would have been better and scarier if it were told in a more straight-forward manner.
Don't pay to see this movie. If you get some free movie tickets and there's nothing better playing, go see it to kill some time. Check it out if you find it while channel-surfing some random weekend sometime. But don't invest time or money into what amounts to be just another slow-paced, confusing maze of a horror movie much like all the others from the past decade or so.
You'll be more annoyed than scared.
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