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He Said, She Said Review Site

The Awakening

What She said:


The He and I have decided to keep the Halloween festivities going just a little bit longer, and this weekend checked out one more spooky film in celebration of the season of thrills and chills.  While Target was already airing commercials riddled with Christmas cheer, we were hunkered down to view the 2011 British ghost movie, The Awakening

Before coming across this movie on Netflix, I had honestly never heard of it, which is actually relatively common when it comes to British films.  But this movie had fairly decent reviews and so we decided to give it a whirl.  The film takes place in England in 1921, and tells the story of Florence Cathcart a renowned scholar and author who has makes a living debunking supernatural phenomena.  One day, she is visited at home by Robert Mallory, who identifies himself as a history teacher at a boys’ boarding school out in the sticks.  He says that there have been sightings of a child ghost at the school, and they believe these are linked to the recent death of a student there.  The worry is that all this bad publicity will cause the school to shut down, and it has long been a place of refuge for struggling boys.

The Awakening

Florence is hesitant to take on the case.  She’s got enough on her plate, including coping with the death of her former lover.  But she’s intrigued, and so she heads out to the school to check it out.  The place is gloomy, to say the least.  It had stood as a private residence until roughly 20 years earlier.  Honestly, it needs a little cheering up.  Florence meets Maud, the school’s housekeeper and matron.  She immediately clings to Florence in what I sensed was a creepy way, but she truly comes across as a total fan-girl. 

Florence begins her investigation and believes that the sightings were nothing more than a hoax by one of the boys at the school.  She also determines that the recent death was due to an asthma attack induced when one of the teachers forced the boy to stand outside and face his fears.  The kid couldn’t handle it, melted down, and died from the asthma attack—totally unintentional.  The school closes up for a break and Florence thinks she’s done there but, as if on cue, strange things start to happen.  It starts with Florence being pulled into a pond by a mysterious spirit.  Fortunately, Robert was nearby to save her.  Oh yeah, Florence and Robert begin a little fling while she’s shacked up at the school.  He’s got his own issues related to his time serving as a soldier in WWI, and I guess she sort of bonds with him because they’re both a little screwed up.

Anyway, crazy stuff starts to happen to Florence—voices, visions, and things moving—and she’s also assaulted by a groundskeeper at the school.  All-in-all, not a good experience for her.  But she does manage to uncover a great mystery surrounding her own life, and her perception of life, and the afterlife, is forever altered.

This movie is creepy and interesting, but I don’t think I’d flat out call it scary.  It turns out that it’s more of a drama-thriller, as the viewer gets to watch Florence unravel the mysteries of this school for boys.  I like the visual appeal of it—it’s dark and somber, which helps to convey the mood of the story.  However, I do think that some will find the film too dull to follow.  It also gets a little bit confusing as the big reveal is made toward the end of the flick.  I found myself saying, “Wait, what??” a few times.  However, I was able to work everything out in a way that was at least logical within my own mind.

The Awakening

Rebecca Hall plays Florence, Dominic West is Robert, and Imelda Staunton is Maud.  They’re all very good, and I have to say that Hall plays the role of the relatable heroine quite well.  She seems to have a good amount of talent and range, and I think she’ll be one of those actresses that starts to pop up in a variety of more mainstream roles.  I’ve seen Dominic West before, and I have to say, he has one of those faces that doesn’t really appeal to me.  He’s good in this role, but I think he’s limited by what I consider an “angry face.”  Staunton was very good—totally creepy—as Maud.  I think she did quite well of making the character warm and matronly, but also a little psychotic.  I always felt like there was a bit of an edge to her, a side that I didn’t want to see.

Overall, I liked this movie, although, as mentioned, I struggled a little with the plot during the last quarter of the film.  The moviemakers do a good job of creating a spooky atmosphere and slowly generating a build-up of mystery.  Some of the conclusions to the secondary mysteries were a little disappointing, but I actually really like the main plot twist, once I was able to figure it all out.  It’s certainly a decent enough movie to warrant its $0 cost.

Thumbs mostly up.

What He said:

The Awakening

Back before television existed, going to see a show was a popular means of entertaining oneself. Vaudeville acts, music groups, escape artists, it didn’t really matter what it was, people went to see it. They had little else to entertain them at that time. As is the case with humanity, we’re always trying to top one another, and sometimes this led to people claiming they could do things that were impossible. Magic acts, séances, and other fantastical claims were made by entertainers during the early 1900s.

This brought about many skeptics (Houdini himself was one interestingly enough). Florence Cathcart is one of these skeptics. She’s actually something of private investigator. She (Rebecca Hall) works with police to expose supernatural hoaxes and the people who perform them.

After returning home from her most recent case, she is approached by Robert Mallory, a teacher at a boarding school in the British countryside. Mr. Mallory (Dominic West) shows her several pictures of the students and the grounds of the school, where a ghost appears to be lurking in the background. She’s hesitant to take the case, she’s exhausted due to some past trauma, and tells him pictures can be faked. Though she’s reluctant, she does decide to take the case.

When she gets to the school she meets Maud Hill, who is the housekeeper. Maud (Imelda Staunton) is a big fan of Florence’s. She has read Florence’s book and holds both it and Florence in very high regard. She also meets another teacher, named Malcom McNair (Shaun Dooley), who is a miserable son of a bitch. He’s the kind of guy who bullies kids because he was bullied as a kid. She also meets Edward Judd (Joseph Mawle), who is the grounds keeper. Something seems off about this guy, but you can’t put your fingers on it.

She also meets several of the students.  One of the kids is a boy named Tom (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Tom is a lonely kid. One of a few lonely kids at the school actually. There is another boy who is openly picked on and another who recently died (and whom many believe is the ghost haunting the school).

The Awakening

There’s a lot of differing things going on at the school. Florence is convinced that there is a rational explanation for all of this. Mallory is of the mind that something other-worldly might actually be happening and that Florence simply needs to be open to the possibility. The kids are scared out of their mind.

I thought this was a solid movie. I liked the atmosphere. I liked the fact that it took place in the 1920s. It had a very authentic look at feel. I also felt the movie did a good job of blending that time period into the larger storyline (World War I is brought up several times and plays a role in parts of the plot). I also thought that Rebecca Hall was pretty damn good. She played a strong independent woman quite well. I always like that, if done well, but I thought this stood out because it took place in a time when women weren’t allowed to be strong or independent. This lady went against the grain and was a legitimate success. Police came to her for her assistance in debunking scam artists. She was a respected member of her community.  The acting was good from top-to-bottom. She was a good lead, Dominic West was good as her right hand man/supporting character, Isaac Hemstead-Wright was good as the troubled and lonely young man Tom, and the rest of the cast was solid too. Imelda Staunton was solid, but the creepy groundskeeper and ass hole teacher stood out to me. I really disliked those two bastards, which was good, because you're supposed to.

The only complaint I had about the movie was that I had a little trouble figuring out some parts towards the end of the movie. I couldn’t figure out if it was meant to be ambiguous, I wasn’t paying attention, or the movie actually did leave some things out. I can’t take too many points off, because I wasn’t sure if it was me or the movie. It was still pretty enjoyable though. More enjoyable than Oculus, another ghost story I recent watched.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on November 8, 2014