MOVIE: ** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
“The Awakening” is a ghost story that wants to be more than just a ghost story. I can appreciate the gesture, but in the process of trying to be a movie that transcends a genre, it insults the genre.
The story follows a famous hoax exposer named Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) who is called to a boys’ school to debunk reports of a haunting that is blamed for a child’s death. While there, she starts having eerie, personal experiences that dredge up unpleasant memories from her earlier years. Florence soon learns there’s more to the stories than she initially suspects.
Even though I have a great love for the basic direct-to-video pieces that Universal puts out on DVD and Blu-ray, “The Awakening” doesn’t quite fall into that mold. Instead, this is a BBC film, which I’m more used to seeing in the Warner Bros. line of releases. So, it brings along the baggage of British drollness and somber delivery. For some, that’s great, but for me it was just rather dry, even for the so-called horror elements.
The acting is fine, and Rebecca Hall holds her own to carry the film. This is an important note for me, considering I have never been a big fan of hers. While most other critics were gushing over her in films like “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “The Town,” I felt her delivery left me cold.
Taking a rare moment to actually act with her natural accent, I appreciated her performance more, I suspect, because she wasn’t distracted by speech patterns. However, Hall couldn’t save the plodding film, nor could decent acting by others like Dominic West and Imelda Staunton.
Ultimately, “The Awakening” tries to rise above ghost stories and seems to look down on the genre it’s desperately trying to be a part of. The tone and atmosphere is good, and it has some genuinely creepy moments. However, as a whole, it thinks it’s more clever than it really is. And had director Nick Murphy been a strong fan of the genre, he might have recognized the cliches before he falls into them.
The Blu-ray does come with some decent special features, especially for those who appreciated the film more than I did. There’s a slate of deleted scenes with an introduction with director Nick Murphy. There are several featurettes, including “A Time for Ghosts,” “Anatomy of a Scene: Florence and the Lake,” “Anatomy of a SCREAM” and a basic behind-the-scenes spot. There’s also an extended interview with Nick Murphy about the production.