The Awakening (2011)
By: Rip on May 28, 2013 | Comments
Madman | Region B | 2.35:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 106 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Nick Murphy
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead Wright
Screenplay: Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy
Country: UK
External Links
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The year is 1921 and Britain is only just beginning to come to terms with the loss of life sustained during World War I. Young author and professional skeptic, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), lost her fiancé-to-be in the war and has since internalized her grief while busying herself exposing supernatural frauds. Her latest case is that of a remote all-boys boarding school in Cumbria that students insist is haunted by the spirit of a boy who died in the building years ago when it was a private home. The recent death of one of the students has the boys in a state of panic, and history teacher Robert Malory (Dominic West) beseeches Florence to come to the school and help calm their nerves. Once there, Florence begins to experience phenomena that shakes her disbelief in ghosts and memories of a past long thought forgotten are unlocked...

A British production, The Awakening is a bit of a tough film to judge, as it's quite a mixed bag, though certainly well made and sumptuously presented. Unfortunately, director Nick Murphy has taken his time to to fill the film with a foreboding promise that it ultimately fails to capitalise on, though I'm sure this is more down to head writer Stephen Volk (William Friedkin's The Guardian), whose script, though intricately layered, never really manages to deliver enough on the fright front. Admittedly, it does have its moments, but they are few and far between, and nothing we really haven't seen before in films like The Orphanage. But the performances by the entire cast are excellent and manage to elevate proceedings to a far greater height than they may have otherwise been. Rising star Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3, The Prestige) is excellent as troubled nay-sayer Florence, and her committed performance validates even the maddest developments. Fresh from his remarkable performance as serial killer, Fred West, in ITV's Appropriate Adult, Dominic West (Centurion, TV's The Wire) again proves his versatility. Also of note are veteran Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter) as school matron Maude and Isaac Hempstead Wright (Game Of Thrones) as young student Tom.

The Awakening ultimately plays more effectively as a period drama than horror movie. Despite the inherently creepy surroundings (the real life house that fronts as the haunted boarding school is a character in itself), director Nick Murphy fails to milk the film's fright potential. That said, the first hour is very good, as Murphy sustains a sense of gathering unease, but it sadly falters during the last act with a few too many sprung surprises. It most certainly requires repeat viewings, with some elements seemingly left up to interpretation and others just plain confusing. Given a little thought and some backtracking, things generally do fall into place and the intelligence of the script shines through with an insightful message about living a haunted life. It's just that... it isn't all that scary.
The Disc
As this film opens, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was shot in black and white, as it is almost completely drained of colour. Of course, this is director intentional, but is therefore hardly a demonstration disc for the visual merits of Blu-ray. Having said that, the image is still often beautiful, but one that often exhibits grain which then results in a lack of overall sharpness. Blacks are pretty good, but unfortunately there are instances if aliasing (though rare), along with noticeable image break-up during a couple of sequences involving motion. Presented in the original aspect ratio of 2:35:1in 1080p on a MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc.

Audio is presented in an excellent English DTS-MA HD 5.1 track, as well as an English LPCM 2.0 channel version, with English audio description. Being a film about the supernatural, an enveloping audio track should be the order of the day and that is exactly what we get here. Surrounds are used most effectively, though subtlely, and dialogue is nice and clear. Daniel Pemberton's excellent orchestral score is replicated beautifully and, as it should in these types of films, heightens the imagery tenfold.

Madman's Blu-ray release contains a wealth of extras including a decent audio commentary by director Nick Murphy, an 18 minute interview with the man, and an okay 34 minute 'Making Of'. We also get a 27 minute compilation of deleted scenes with director introduction (these are actually quite interesting), a 6 minute BFTA Q&A with Murhpy and star Rebecca Hall, and a 14 minute 'Anatomy Of A Scene' section. But wait... there's more! 'Anatomy Of A Scream' is a 16 minute piece with the film's director, producer and cast discussing their feelings about ghosts and, best of all, a 23 minute featurette entitled 'A Time For Ghosts' which covers the movie's historical background. I found this extra feature to be the most interesting and informative of the lot. Also included are the film's theatrical trailer, along with trailers for three other great Madman releases.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A beautifully made film, The Awakening is an absorbing, atmospheric work that unfortunately gets a little too M. Night Shyamalan in the final act and ultimately plays more as a period drama/mystery thriller, than trouser-embarrassing horror film. That all said, it's still a fine British movie and comes recommended.
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