Review: The Awakening (15) / Director: Nick Murphy / Screenplay: Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy / Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton / Release Date: 26th March
Florence Cathcart (Hall) doesn’t believe in ghosts. In fact, the thoroughly modern young woman makes a living from disproving them. Whether she’s raiding séances or writing books to disprove their existence, Cathcart has made it her mission to wake a grieving post-World-War-1 nation up to the reality that their loved ones are gone forever.
Appearing to challenge this theory is schoolmaster, Robert Mallory (West) who implores Florence to visit his school following the death of a young boy. When it is suggested that the cause of death was due to a ghostly apparition of a former pupil, Cathcart is sceptical to say the least. Nevertheless, she agrees to accompany him to the imposing boarding school known as Rookwood.
Needless to say, things don’t go well. On one hand, the events leading up to the death of the boy seem to be entirely explainable. But then again, Florence can’t shake the feeling that something else has a hand in the strange goings on in the former private residence. As time goes on, she becomes more and more absorbed as the ghosts of her past begin their own awakening within her.
Essentially, Florence Cathcart is the 1920s answer to Dana Scully, flatly opposed to the supernatural, believing instead that everything is explainable through science. As an audience, witnessing the shadows in the hallways and the strangely blurred apparition of a young boy, we become her Mulder counterpart, desperately urging her to see what’s really going on.
But this is far from simply a ghost story. What director Nick Murphy has crafted is a grounded narrative about grief and loss, which happens to manifest itself within the walls of a grand estate that has suffered its own fair share of tragedy. Yes, there are jump-in-your-seat moments and fleeting glimpses of the creepy young spectre, but the truly terrifying moments are born from pure unadulterated psychological horror.
This film is beautifully crafted, exceptionally acted and genuinely creepy in equal amounts. You’ll even forgive the ever-so-slightly contrived third act that boasts a somewhat familiar twist that somehow manages to creep up on you.
There’s a fantastic array of bonus features here that not only give you an insight into the story, but also the filmmaking process and the era the movie is grounded in.
Behind the Scenes gives you a well rounded look at the production, summing up director and co-writer Murphy’s unquestionable passion for the subtext of 1920s public grief that underpins the film. Interviews from cast and crew also permeate this and the subsequent features.
Anatomy of a Scene – Florence and the Lake really gives you an insight into the logistics of filmmaking. The scene in question was one of the most expensive shot, yet is seemingly one of the simplest. While the cast discuss the practicalities of wading in decades of rotting duck excrement, Murphy waxes lyrical about the need to be flexible as a filmmaker and how what is in your head at the beginning, is rarely what reality will give you on camera.
A Time for Ghosts uncovers the background of post-war Britain, deeply penetrating the nation’s sudden need to believe in the supernatural.
Deleted Scenes are relatively few, but each comes with very honest introductions by Murphy who also expounds on the need to cut even the best-acted scenes.
Interview with the Director covers the project from inception to completion, while Anatomy of a Scream allows the cast and crew to reveal their own supernatural experiences. It also tells us that you should never attend a children’s party at Dominic West’s house.
A BAFTA Q&A, in-depth Director’s Commentary and Trailer are also on offer.