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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Awakening


Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton
Studio Canal
RRP: £17.99
Certificate: 15
Available 26 March 2012

1921, a post-war England sees many of the bereaved seeking solace in spiritualism. Haunted by the death of her fiancé, Florence Cathcart is committed to debunking supernatural claims, using methodical and rational explanations. When she is asked to visit a boarding school in the countryside called Rookwood - to investigate the alleged sightings of a ghostly young boy - she feels compelled to take the job. Once at Rookwood, she sets to work, laying traps and gathering scientific evidence. Over the coming days the blurred image of a child-like ghost haunts Florence and she begins to doubt her resolve, increasingly unable to provide any logical explanation for the bizarre goings-on...

The Awakening is a good, solid supernatural horror movie that does a surprisingly good job of bringing something new to the genre. The film opens with a séance in which a dead young girl appears to materialise in order to communicate with her mother... but all is not what it seems as Florence Cathcart unmasks the charlatans for what they are. Florence is working with the police to catch those that flout the law by conducting in spiritualist activities in a bid to defraud those desperate to contact dead loved ones. Florence has spent years debunking ghosts and the paranormal, always finding a simple explanation behind every paranormal sighting.

When she is approached by a teacher from a boarding school desperate for her help, she at first rejects his request to help track down the source of ghostly activities. Already one boy has recently died of fright, and in countless school photos a mysterious ghostly figure of a boy can be seen. It is thought that this ghostly figure is responsible for the recent death. Florence eventually agrees to investigate, and on arrival at the school soon solves the mystery... or so she things... Something much more sinister is at play here... But are there real ghosts, or just ghosts from her past? What's great about this film is that there are twists within twists, so even if you do figure out what's going on, it's very doubtful that you'll get the whole picture before the reveal.

The movie looks fantastic, with the colour having been drained out of the image to appear a sickly appearance to the picture in order to draw upon the sickness that was still rife in Britain at the time - with the nation still counting its dead from the First World War and the outbreak of influenza.

The acting is flawless. Rebecca Hall (Florence) has a subtle beauty and you really believe in her character; Dominic West (Robert Malory) is well cast. This is a dramatic change since his role as Fred West in Appropriate Adult and Imelda Staunton is wonderful as Maud Hill - but then that's no surprise as Staunton always turns in a faultless performance. What's interesting is the subtle touches. For example, when Florence is illustrating how her traps work she sets of a camera flash which visibly shakes Robert. This is only on screen for a second and hardly noticeable, but his obvious shock stems from his experiences in WWI.

There are many layers to this film and a second viewing brings its own rewards.

Thankfully this film relies very little on visual effects to draw you into the story... and when they are used it's shock value works well. As is always the case, the viewer's own imagination filling in the blanks makes this a much more chilling experience. But the creepy dolls house scenes are particularly unsettling.

Extras include and audio commentary with the director (the DVD however, doesn't contain the promised deleted scenes material he mentions though - if you want to see that you'll have to buy the Blu-ray edition); Behind the Scenes (34 min, 32 sec); and A Time for Ghosts (23 min, 44 sec feature with looks at Britain after WWI and why so many people felt the need to turn to spiritualism and the paranormal; and Trailer (2 min, 21 sec).

The Awakening is a rich movie that is well worth investing your time in. It will make for a spooky evening's viewing.


Darren Rea

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