For every so-called ghostly encounter there are about a dozen or so hoaxes that exist. Set in 1921, The Awakening follows Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) as she travels to a dilapidated boarding school that is said to be haunted by a child who died there long ago. It’s her job to debunk the case and find the culprit responsible. That is, unless there really is a ghost haunting the premises of course.
Florence is one of the first ghost hunters in modern history, at least that’s what I can tell. She’s a skeptic who believes that there’s a reasonable explanation for everything. In this case, it’s probably one of the students messing about. She plans to catch this troublemaker with a variety of tools such as tripwire cameras, bells, and newspaper with powder in front of walkways. By today’s standards that might seem weak but you have to remember that this is 1921 we’re talking about. She’s one of the best ghost hunters in the business, having already written a book detailing her experiences. No book or fancy technology can prepare for what she’s about to encounter, however.
The Awakening features many of the usual horror tricks of the trade with figures suddenly appearing out of thin air or chilling sounds echoing throughout the vast hallways. The boarding school acts as a perfect location for a haunting. Dimly lit rooms and eerie shadows play tricks on the mind and the antique look of the place adequately reflects the time period. We’re used to seeing ghost hunters use EVP recorders, night vision cameras, and all sorts of fancy equipment. It’s interesting to see some of the same techniques used but in a much older setting. Ghostly apparitions in photos for instance, can be explained by someone using the 15 second time delay of a camera flash to cast a shadowy image in the picture.
Towards the end of the film, things begin to take a more haunting turn as questions become answers. It soon focuses more on the disturbing story involved rather than the cheap thrills of the cinematography. There are a few “ah ha” moments that’ll have you looking back on the film in a different light. It’s a shame that the buildup towards the beginning is so slow. Be prepared for some dull moments as the film attempts to build the suspense. There are a few scenes where the scares are few and far between.
The Awakening can’t help but feel a bit old-fashioned but deep within it are some justifiably frightening moments. The atmosphere of the film is its highlight, with the boarding school fitting perfectly into the drab setting for a horror film. While it doesn’t push the genre to any new heights, The Awakening will have you double checking the halls before you turn in for the night.
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