was always an old English tradition to have a ghost in your country house. After World War I, there were also plenty of
dearly departed to be visited by. Of
course, this led to a grand opportunity for a host of charlatans armed with a
few garden variety parlor tricks. Florence
Cathcart has made it her calling to debunk those flim-flam artists while she
struggles with her own emotional issues in Nick Murphy’s The Awakening (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
is a bestseller, celebrated and sometimes reviled for her work exposing phony
spiritualists. That is actually no small
accomplishment for a British woman in 1919.
While she is on friendly terms with Scotland Yard, she feels hollow
inside. Robert Mallory is also
skeptical, at least of her brilliance.
However, with the boys of his private school spooked by sightings of a
spectral student from years past, he reluctantly seeks her help, which she
reluctantly gives. Much to her surprise
though, Rookwood’s haunting is not so easy to dismiss.
to crack the case, Cathcart stays on at Rookwood over the holiday break, with
only Mallory, Maud Hill the kitchen matron, and young Tom, a student unable to
return home during the academic hiatus, for company. There might be a few more malevolent entities
as well, such as the brutish groundskeeper and perhaps the odd supernatural
Awakening starts out
strong, establishing a vivid sense of time and place. Much like Rodrigo Cortés’ nose-diving Red Lights, the early séance-busting
scenes are fun and atmospheric. The
locations are certainly evocative too.
Lyme Park in Cheshire, where most of the exteriors were shot (having
previously stood in for Pemberley in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice) has to be one of
the most severe looking estates the aristocracy ever summered in. Cinematographer Eduard Grau certainly makes
it appear ominous and full of foreboding.
Unfortunately, it all builds towards an over the top conclusion, loaded with
contrived twists that would only leave M. Night Shyamalan satisfied.
Hall is okay as the doubter in crisis.
She has the necessary intelligent presence and shivers with admirable conviction. However, the real standout work comes from
Dominic West (terrific in BBC America’s The Hour) as the WWI veteran Mallory, with the heart of a romantic and a
persistent case of survivor’s guilt. It
is sensitive, deeply humane turn.
Like many supernatural films, The Awakening completely dispenses with
its better judgment in the third act.
Still, its first two thirds are effectively eerie and entertaining. Frankly that is above average for the genre
standard. Recommended for those who
enjoy the conventions of old dark British haunted houses, The Awakening opens this Friday (8/17) in New York at the Angelika
Film Center and the AMC Empire.
Labels: British Cinema, Dominic West, Ghost movies, Rebecca Hall