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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

THE AWAKENING (Nick Murphy 2011): Chills, But NO Thrills

That I want to like this film should count for something, I guess. 

2.5 Stars

I don’t believe there is much to say about this movie. Thematically, it shares some similarities with one of my very favorite ghost movies, The Others (Alejandro Amenabar 2001). It also seems to take some cues from a British classic, The Innocents (Jack Clayton 1961).  Come to think of it, the rather unexpected ending of Murphy’s film does not even seem entirely different from Amenabar’s nor Clayton’s endings. And this explains why I certainly wasn’t blown away by its capacity for originality (although I suspect the writers expected me to be). But the fact is, this movie is lackluster. By the time it picks up I’m hardly relieved, since I’ve already settled into not caring. 

To be fair, I did immediately love Rebecca Hall’s character, Florence. The film opens with a group of people gathered for a public seance. These were actually quite a popular form of entertainment as far back as the mid 19th Century, especially among the rich and famous. 

Abraham Linclon and company

Of course, sometimes they were more serious than others (Lincoln's wife for instance did mean to contact a very missed loved one). By 1920 though, many professionals had debunked mediumship, exposing its fraudulence. But the showmanship associated with it remains captivating to many. And then of course there are still believers who perform seances as part of religious ritual. But Florence will have none of this. An avid non-believer, and taking on a role similar to Joseph McCabe, she has dedicated her life to "ghost hunting" as a means of exposing the truth. She has even written a book. Florence storms in on the seance in the opening and hurries about the room, smugly revealing the trick behind each "miracle". She is strong and witty, but after waiting around for her story to develop, I suddenly realized I was over it. I was then let down to find everything I liked about her could be stripped away by a semi-creepy, ill-explained doll house, and a few other strange events. 

How can a film with such a strong start falter so quickly?  It really is frustrating. Furthermore, the “jump scares” really only create a chilling atmosphere, suited to the beautifully cold landscape and color pallet. That is, I’m never actually scared.

I can’t ignore how aesthetically beautiful this movie is, nor how boring. To quote Roger Ebert in his own 2012 review of it, “Whatever. The Awakening looks great but never develops a plot with enough clarity to engage us”.