Studio: Cohen Media Group/Studio Canal/BBC Films/USHE
Release Year: 2011 (Toronto and Italy)
Length: 1 hr 48 mins
Genre: Period Horror/Ghost Story
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 23 mbps)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.7 mbps, up to 4.5 during big scenes)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Film Rating: R (Nudity, Sexuality, Violence)
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton
Screenplay by: Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy
Directed by: Nick Murphy
Review Rating: 2/5
The Awakening is a ghost story set in the 1920s in Britain, where hoax exposer Florence (Rebecca Hall) specializes in showing the fraudulence of the usual séance and witchcraft routines. The movie’s story brings her to a boarding school that seems to have a genuine ghost haunting it, and the inevitable jolts and creepy situations ensue. The short version of the review is that after a great start, the movie seems to abandon its premise and Florence’s scientific instincts in favor of several completely irrational decisions. By the end of the movie, the story has taken about four leaps of logic too many, including a closing scene that is initially baffling and then simply annoying. This is a shame, as Rebecca Hall is an actress with enough depth that she could play something much more interesting than what she’s asked to do here, and the premise could have worked, had anyone reasoned the thinking through.
SPOILERS: The movie begins with a great little scene to establish Florence’s abilities as a hoax exposer, as she literally opens the curtains on a particularly seedy séance fraud. Within moments, the movie establishes a solid sense of 1920s London, as well as the distaste Florence has for her work. Her clutched photo of a boyfriend lost in the war would seem to indicate that Florence may actually be looking for a psychic who really can commune with the dead. And this would have been a very interesting story, had the filmmakers continued down this path. Alas, they did not. Instead, the movie has Florence take on the case of a boys’ boarding school where there seems to be a child ghost roaming the halls and where one of the boys has possibly been killed by it. (The history of the building is shrouded, but apparently it was a private residence once, and it is thought that a little boy died there.) Florence travels to the school and immediately sets up shop with elaborate gear to expose however the fraud is being perpetrated. Except that on her first night, the movie goes to great lengths to show that more is happening than Florence can explain. She hears voices that nobody else does, and we begin to see nightmarish images of a young boy with his mouth frozen in a Munch-like scream. Yet Florence doesn’t communicate this – not completely. She does expose that one of the boys in the school is pretending to be a ghost, and solves the death of the little boy, but is unable to show any proof for the other appearances. At this point, almost all of the boys leave the school for a holiday, except for little Tom, who stays along with Florence, one of the teachers and the school housekeeper. Having apparently proven her case, Florence goes to the lake by the school, sees an apparition in the water, and then mysteriously tries to drown herself. This is the point where the story more or less leaves the tracks, not to return.
MORE SPOILERS: A more nuanced filmmaker might have been able to pull the next series of events off, but they would have to take a dreamlike POV on everything. (One is reminded of Peter Weir’s work in Picnic at Hanging Rock.) And that’s not the approach taken here. The rest of the movie unfolds in a fairly blunt fashion, albeit with some bizarre jumps between scenes that repeatedly leave the viewer saying “What the…” out loud. After another night, in which Florence sees multiple examples of completely supernatural activity and neither explains them or discusses them with anyone, the movie makes the jump that in fact the boarding school was once the home of Florence’s family! So after having spent plenty of time with Florence, who is supposed to be a rational and scientific person, we are now told that she is suddenly recovering repressed memories of how her father killed her mother and little half-brother when she was a little girl. We are further told that the housekeeper is actually the mother of her half-brother. And to make things really interesting, we are told that little Tom is actually a ghost and has been one the whole time! Once the viewer has recovered from that one, (and I’m going to leave out the part where Florence spies on the teacher while he takes a bath and then gets into a brutal fight with the groundskeeper that leaves her face bloody for nearly twenty minutes of the third act), we are then asked to bear with the movie while the housekeeper poisons Florence and herself so they can rejoin little Tom and all be dead together. The end of the movie initially indicates that Florence may now be a ghost haunting the school, but within moments it becomes clear that she’s actually just wandering around the school being rude to everyone before leaving. Now, all of these things could work if they were handled with the right touch. If the situation is played like a dream, or if the characters try to keep bringing things back to reality, there’s a chance that the audience can follow it. But when the filmmakers keep changing the rules of the game or the entire game itself, there’s very little to be done but throw your up your hands.
The Awakening was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 29th. The Blu-ray edition contains high definition picture and audio of the movie, along with some deleted scenes and nearly two hours of featurettes, most of which are composed of interviews with writer/director Nick Murphy and the cast.
VIDEO QUALITY 3 ½/5
The Awakening is presented in a 2.35:1 1080p AVC encode that shows off plenty of details in the period decorations and clothing. The colors of this movie are intentionally drab, with the occasional jump to red blood.
AUDIO QUALITY 3 ½/5
The Awakening gets a solid English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, which follows the usual pattern for horror movies – long periods of quiet, punctuated by cattle prods and subwoofer hits when the ghosts come a-calling.
SPECIAL FEATURES 2/5
The Awakening comes with nearly 2 ½ hours of extras, but this is actually a case where more is less, if that can be believed. I should note that the featurettes contain plenty of SPOILERS so if you’re trying to watch the movie fresh, it wouldn’t be advisable to watch them beforehand.
Deleted Scenes (28:13 Total, 1080p) – Several deleted scenes are shown, all with lengthy introductions by Nick Murphy. I would venture to guess that the actual running time of the deleted material is less than 15 minutes. There is no option to view any scene individually – you just activate the feature and watch the whole shebang.
A Time for Ghosts (24:46, 1080p) – This featurette includes a fair amount of interview material with Nick Murphy, as well as with Dominic West and Rebecca Hall. The primary subject here is not only ghosts and paranormal activity but also the condition of Britain following World War I, and the period of grieving that follows any major catastrophe like a war.
Anatomy of a Scene: Florence and the lake (15:16, 1080p) – This featurette focuses on the scene wherein Florence sees the apparition in the water and then decides to take one of her more bizarre actions of the movie. Further interview material with Murphy and the cast is employed here.
Anatomy of a SCREAM (17:12, 1080p) – This featurette focuses on the horror aspects of the movie, and the ways in which Murphy planned to unsettle and scare his audience.
Behind the Scenes (36:02, 1080p) – This featurette is a more general overview of the making of the movie, but still making use of the same interview sessions. (It’s possible that there is some overlap in the material – at a certain point I confess to hitting overload…)
Extended Interview with Nick Murphy (19:28, 1080p) – This is the Nick Murphy interview material separated from the other featurettes. I believe this to be a mixture of overlapping material with the featurettes and some parts of the discussion that can only be found here.
The movie is subtitled in English and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present, including a complete chapter menu. However, there is no Main Menu for this Blu-ray. When you start the movie, you go directly to the opening of the movie and your only option for the menu is through the pop-up feature.
IN THE END...
The Awakening could have been an effective and chilling movie about how a skeptic may be convinced that there really are such things as ghosts. It is unfortunate that the movie detours so badly into bizarre territory, given that the look, sound and lead performance all had enough of interest to make for a satisfying movie. It’s just that the writing and directing didn’t get the movie anywhere worth spending either the nearly two hours of running time or the funds for the blu-ray. The picture and sound quality are good, and there’s plenty of interview material wherein the filmmakers discuss their movie. It’s just that there really is no there there.
February 11, 2013
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “ISF-Night” picture mode
HDTV Calibrated in June 2012 by Avical
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer
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