The Awakening (2011)

(On Cable TV, July 2013) The British filmmakers behind The Awakening seem determined to uphold national stereotypes, as this quiet horror film manages to be successful in ways that bombastic American horror movies can’t quite manage.  The film start extremely well, as a professional skeptic in Post-WW1 Britain is asked to investigate mysterious happenings at a boarding school with a troubled history.  Much of the first half of the film is an effective demonstration of the power of good scripting, quiet scares, strong character work and effective atmosphere.  Rebecca Hall squarely carries The Awakening on her shoulders as the lead protagonist, a proto-feminist debunker who would love nothing more than to find proof of the supernatural.  Things take a left turn midway through, as the initial mystery is seemingly solved: suddenly, the protagonist realizes something else is in play, and the film shifts gears, realizing the potential of the film’s title and sending us in ever-unlikelier territory.  It all leads to a subtle ending that can be interpreted in two ways, to the pleasure or frustration of everyone.  Still, despite a somewhat weaker third act that depends on the quasi-magical powers of unsuspected amnesia, The Awakening is a successful horror film.  Rebecca Hall’s strong screen presence is complemented by other capable actors such as Dominic West and Imelda Staunton to improve the already-convincing atmosphere of the film.  It’s refreshingly free of gore, and given how it works in slightly different ways than most horror films, it’s worth tracking down for ghost-story fans.

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