TIFF 2011 – The Awakening

It is 1921. In the aftermath of the Great War and the Spanish flu pandemic, almost everyone in England has been touched by tragedy and the country is rife with charlatans and fraudsters claiming to be able to contact the dead. Florence Cathcart is a bold, Oxford-educated woman who has dedicated herself to debunking the supernatural. She is contacted by a schoolmaster at a boys' boarding school. Although the school has long had a reputation for being haunted, his more immediate concern is the death of one of the boys several weeks previously.

Shot with a greyed out palette, the film contains many of the usual genre elements. There is the large, isolated house that is sparsely inhabited, the unconfirmed historical tragedy and the oppressed mood of all involved. First-time feature director Nick Murphy creates an uncanny atmosphere of unease and anticipation but the film is more than just a spooky thriller. Ultimately, it is more a psychological suspense than a ghost story. Florence is no damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. Played by Rebecca Hall, she is a strong and determined woman who is haunted by her past. Dominic West is the damaged schoolmaster who is wracked by survivor's guilt. Imelda Staunton is the kindly, long-standing matron of the boarding school. The roles for the two women were written with the actresses in mind and they and West are the heart of the film. Reminiscent of The Others, The Awakening is a thoughtful ghost story. There are enough thrills to keep you jumping but it's the characters who engage and interest.

The Awakening (2011)
Director: Nick Murphy
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton

Written by Pauline Dong

A native Torontonian, Pauline enjoys much that the city has to offer, especially in the areas of food and drink. She is also an enthusiastic traveller and explorer of other cultures. A self-described film geek, her interest in movies was first piqued by the early works of Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-Wai. More a fan than a critic, she invites your thoughts on the films in her articles.

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