Friday, May 24, 2013

Movie Review—The Awakening

OBSERVATION: Between 1914 and 1919 war and influenza have claimed more than a million lives in Britain alone.

CONCLUSION: This is a time for ghosts.

So claims the opening scene of The Awakening, in the form of plain white text on a grainy black background while low, ominous music builds. It's a powerful way to start a movie, and for the first 60 minutes or so, the movie keeps that power in a slow burn buildup of tension and creepiness. The plot centers on a woman named Florence Cathcart, a woman desperate to find proof of the afterlife and ghosts in order to take the edge off of some of her own personal losses, yet in investigation after investigation she reveals so-called hauntings to be misunderstandings or hoaxes. She's called upon to investigate a possible haunting at a boarding school that may just have resulted in a student's death, and so begins a classic plotline that would fit well in any era.

But by setting the movie in the direct shadow of World War I in 1921 Britain, the movie becomes something more—it seems infected with the hopelessness and despair that must have gripped the world after a decade of some of the most horrifying mass deaths modern civilization has ever endured. Indeed... if any time is a time for ghosts, it is after the planet's been seized by war and disease for nearly a decade.

Unfortunately, the movie can't keep its momentum going. I've come to really appreciate ghost movies these days that simply tell a spooky tale that unfolds gradually, allowing us to learn the mysterious and macabre background that caused the haunting as the film progresses... WITHOUT feeling the need to add in a third-act surprise that turns everything that's come before into something else entirely. I blame The Sixth Sense, of course, for the popularity of this type of movie. For a while, I was hoping that The Awakening would be something more like The Innkeepers or The Devil's Backbone, but no... it couldn't resist the twist ending.
Yeah. Old timey ghost photos. The easiest way to creep me out.

And no... Comparing it to the Sixth Sense doesn't reveal the surprise twist—it's actually a pretty creative twist, but it wasn't NEAR enough to live up to the film's opening thesis. Still... pretty creepy ride getting there, and once the surprise was out in the open, I was able to continue enjoying the movie... just not at the same level as I had when it started.

The Awakening...
  • ... loses sight of its intriguing story in its attempt to provide a twist ending.
  • ... is never not spooky to look at, even when there's nothing particularly supernatural going on.
  • ... actually has a second twist to the storyline once the primary twist is revealed; this second one is a lot more spooky and disturbing, and I kind of wish they'd just abandoned the first twist and kept the second one.
  • ... gets a lot of mileage out of its time period and setting. It's rare to see a horror movie take place in a non-contemporary setting, it seems.
Grade: B+

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