This is not really a horror film. That is not to say that it does not have it share of tension and scares but just that this film deals more with grief than with horror. Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is an author who is interested with investigating paranormal claims and is especially obsessed with busting fake mediums scamming members of the public. The film starts with her busting one group and having them all arrested because pulling these sorts of scams used to be illegal in Britain. This is in 1921 and it is only 3 years after the end of the First World War where Britain nearly lost an entire generation of young people to a war conducted by rich people sitting in map rooms. There is a lot of grief and desperation for these ghouls to feed on but the victim of the con is not happy about the bust. The fake mediums were selling the woman hope but Florence has nothing but cold hard reality to offer.
Florence is a bit of an evangelist of science and rationality but she hates her victories against the supernatural because Florence lost her fiancé in the war and each time she finds a logical explanation or con trick to explain away any mysteries she comes across it confirms her belief and fear that death is really the end and that this is all there is.
She gets a visit from John Mallory (Dominic West) a history teacher at a boy’s boarding school. He wants to use her skills to bust the ghost stories at the school which have led to one boy at the school dying because of his fear of the ghost. She has been recommended to the school’s headmaster by the school’s matron who is a big fan of Florence’s books. Mallory himself is not a fan. He shows Florence the school photographs and each year the same ghostly figure can be seen at the end of the group of a boy the same age as the boys at the school. This intrigues her and she agrees to investigate the school.
At the school she gets introduced to the groundskeeper Edward Judd (Joseph Mawle) who drives Florence and Mallory from the station. Florence detects a frosty attitude between the men and it turns out that while Mallory fought in the war and was injured and lost all his friends Judd avoided being conscripted. At the school we see another teacher McNair (Shaun Dooley) who is supervising the boys while they run across the school’s grounds and he coughs and downs tonic. The matron Maud Hill (Imelda Staunton) is waiting for them at the entrance and she almost seems star-struck to meet Florence. Mallory takes Florence inside to introduce her to the headmaster Reverend Purslow (John Shrapnel) who greets her then leaves her in the care of Mallory.
Florence gets he equipment set up and start investigating the ghostly mystery that scared a boy to death. She does succeed in uncovering schoolboy pranks and doe manage to solve the mystery of the boy’s death but she has a sense that she is missing something and investigates further. Any more about the story would be a spoiler but I was not very satisfied with the way the film turned out in the last the third when the film springs a little twist on us. I may change my mind about this but I thought it was just not up to the standard set by the first two-thirds of the film. I’ll probably see it again because I think this film does need more than one viewing just to see if questions I have about the story are actually answered. If you like low moody ghost stories that are light in blood you may enjoy this.There is some sex and nudity both male and female so that’s either a warning or a bit of fan service.
- Rotten Tomatoes
- DVD Review: The Awakening (thepeoplesmovies.com)
- DVD: The Awakening (15) (independent.co.uk)