Movie Review: "The Awakening"
Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a paranormal skeptic. She has studied everything she can about the paranormal and has written a vastly successful book on her findings. She has searched far and wide to find proof of paranormal existence, but her search has always lead to the discovery of natural explanations. Whether it be con artists or faulty inanimate objects, Florence has always been able to find an explanation for the "paranormal" occurrences that others have experienced.
One day, a man named Robert Mallory (Dominic West) comes to meet her, and he explains that he works at an orphanage that is haunted by a ghost. Florence Cathcart explains that she has always found substantial proof that ghosts do not truly exist. However, Robert Mallory is adamant that the ghost haunting the orphanage is very real. Thus, Florence decides to go to the orphanage to prove him wrong with science.
The Pros & Cons
The Premise (+3pts)
The Reveal (-4pts)
The Mystery (+5pts)
The Clues (-3pts)
Rebecca Hall (+8pts)
The Romance (-2pts)
Pro: The Premise (+3pts)
I thought this was an interesting take on a paranormal film. We have frequently seen movies that focus on characters who initially do not believe in the supernatural, but end up getting convinced pretty quickly. With this film, we got a main character who was actively trying to disprove the ghost's existence. Her beliefs would not be so easily abandoned, and I enjoyed seeing how her confidence played into this story.
She was an expert in the field of disproving the existence of ghosts, but she was recruited by a man who was certain that a ghost was haunting the orphanage. Both characters were entirely certain of their beliefs, but one of them would have to be proved wrong. I very much enjoyed that the film focused on the skeptic, because it allowed the audience to see the character, gradually, begin to doubt everything she believed. It also allowed us to see a familiar story, but through a unique perspective (as stories like this are usually about believers trying to convince the non-believers). I liked the premise of this movie, because it was a paranormal story from the perspective of a reputable paranormal skeptic. It provided an interesting, entertaining, and unique perspective that I enjoyed watching.
Con: The Reveal (-4pts)
I really enjoyed the journey that was this story. The main character went through a lot and went through quite the transformation, but I thought the movie lost a ton of steam with the reveal. The filmmakers repeatedly flipped back and forth on whether the entity was a ghost or a hoax, but the reveal did not live up to the hype of this question that was setup during the rising action. It felt very generic and it felt like the filmmakers spent so much effort writing the rising action of the film, that they forgot that they still needed to stick the landing.
Again, I enjoyed the rising action quite a bit. I was interested, and I was entertained, but the resolution was ridiculous. I do not want to spoil it, but know that it felt like a lazy mix of endings from a few classic horror films (you will know which if you see the movie). I thought this movie had a unique premise, but it felt very generic by the end.
Pro: The Mystery (+5pts)
Due to the movie's premise, it was able to focus on the mystery of whether or not the ghost really existed. With some scenes, the audience will be certain that the whole thing was a hoax. In other scenes, the audience will be certain that the ghost was very real. This filmmakers constantly flipped back and forth (up to a certain point), and let the audience join Florence as she tried to solve the mystery.
We followed Florence as she set up various devices, traps, and contraptions, all set up in an attempt to explain the strange things that were happening in the orphanage and catch the person responsible. She was extremely convinced that there was a person and an explanation behind the strange occurrences, and she was very convincing. Despite the things that the audience saw and heard, Florence's conviction and experience were able to make the audience (me) doubt the legitimacy of the ghost. This was very essential, and made the mystery element very fun to watch and play along with.
Con: The Clues (-3pts)
With the reveal of the overall mystery came the reveal of some of the clues that had been setup previously. Basically, Florence came to the realization (as to whether or not it was a ghost or a hoax), and when she figured it out, she recalled (we got a flashback) all the clues that could have led her to that discovery. Unfortunately, none of these "clues" felt significant at the time the audience saw it. In other words, these supposed clues were just random things that happened, made me think it they were odd, then I did not think about them again.
Turns out Florence had history with these clues that the audience did not, and it made the flashback feel unjustified. First, had the audience had the history that Florence had, we would have known the answer to the mystery much sooner, and it did not make any sense why Florence would not have figured it out. Second, the filmmakers never focused on these things as they were happening, so they did not feel like clues and therefor I had no connection to them during the flashback. What I am getting at here, is that this flashback sequence did not work for me. If the filmmakers wanted to have it in here, they should have spent more time and attention setting these things up earlier. If they did not want to spend that time and attention setting these things up (which is what ended up happening) then I think the ending of this movie would have worked better without the flashback sequence.
Pro: Rebecca Hall (+8pts)
This movie was almost entirely carried by Rebecca Hall. I have always thought she was a strength of the movies that I have seen her in, and this movie was no different. The movie had quite a bit of horror throughout, but Rebecca Hall's performance really brought out the suspense and intensity. There were so many shots of Rebecca Hall's face, as she wandered the halls at night, experiencing strange occurrences.
Her character started out very skeptical and approached everything from a scientific perspective. Then, as the story progressed, she began slowly doubting herself. I say this to point out that the character went through quite the philosophical transformation throughout the course of this movie, and Rebecca Hall portrayed this very believable way. It was easy to connect with this character, which was partially due to the character's story, but it had a lot to do with Rebecca Hall's performance.
Con: The Romance (-2pts)
I really hated this element of the story. The two main characters of this story were Florence and Robert. Florence was a reputable paranormal skeptic. Robert worked in an orphanage that was haunted (or so he believed). Robert recruited Florence and the story took off from there.
That was all great, but then the movie started diving into a potential romance between Florence and Robert. It was an awkward romance and it felt completely unfounded and unnecessary. I thought these characters worked best when they had a friendly, bantering, professional relationship. However, the filmmakers decided to force a romance between these two characters, and it was so unjustified that it felt like lazy writing.
Grade: B- (82pts)
The Awakening was a decent horror movie. It had a unique premise, as it had a main character who was a very reputable paranormal skeptic. I liked this, because we have seen many films in which the characters doubted the existence of ghosts, but we have rarely seen movies where the main character has been so actively skeptical. The movie got pretty intense and captivating, and I thought Rebecca Hall did a great job of carrying most of it.
While the rising action was very interesting, the reveal and the end of the story felt very anti-climactic. It felt very much like the filmmakers put all their effort into making the rising action great, but left no effort to secure a decent ending. Instead, they resorted to a generic ending that seemed copied bits and pieces from other classic films. The ending also brought a flashback that focused on the "clues" that were supposedly hinting at the truth throughout the entire movie. Unfortunately, these clues did not work for me at all, as they would have only worked if I knew things from Florence's past, a past that the filmmakers never setup. Fortunately, the journey was entertaining and it was only really the ending that had major problems. The movie was not perfect, but it was a fairly entertaining horror movie (just do not be too hopeful for a satisfying ending).