Saturday movie review: 'The Awakening'

Come the Halloween season, I crave a spooky movie. Not a scary-as-all-get-out movie, you know, the sort so evil one fears they've surely opened the gates of hell simply by watching it. And not the violent, gory, bloody yuck fests, either. And definitely not the poorly written, poorly acted scream fests featuring babbling blondes running from madmen in masks.

No, I like a good old-fashioned, suspense-filled ghost story. One with just the right amount of startles and chills yet one that allows me to afterward walk — not run! — up the two flights of stairs to my bedroom without having to turn on every light along the way or jump onto my bed in fear of what may be underneath it.

The Awakening

Such quality creepy films are hard to find. So each Halloween season for several years I've relied on viewing an oldie but goodie  — 1988's LADY IN WHITE — to mark the spooky season. This Halloween, though, I found a newer film (thank you, Netflix streaming!) that perfectly fits my must-not-have list as noted above.

THE AWAKENING is exactly what I hoped for: an old-fashioned ghost story that's well written, well acted, and full of suspense and a not-so-easy-to-figure-out ending.

The story is set just after World War I, when distraught folks across the world desperately sought proof the loved ones they lost in the war were doing fine in the spirit world. Rebecca Hall stars as Florence Cathcart, an author and paranormal skeptic who regularly outs the charlatans who prey on peoples' need for comfort from beyond. Dominic West plays Robert Mallory, who seeks Cathcart's help in disproving — or proving — the existence of a ghost boy at a boys' boarding school where Imelda Staunton plays headmistress Maud Hill.


I love the classic, eery atmosphere of THE AWAKENING. Homes, vehicles, the boarding school — even the outdoors — have a shadowy, ominous feel about them.

I especially appreciated the lack of a foreboding soundtrack to build suspense and warn viewers when something scary is about to happen; no, the superb acting does that, as it should. Rebecca Hall was nominated for best actress in the British Independent Film Awards. In fact, director Nick Murphy earned nominations for several awards and won two — not so typical for scary movies, to be sure.

But then again, THE AWAKENING isn't your typical scary movie. And for that I'm quite thankful.

THE AWAKENING (rated R "for some violence and sexuality/nudity") was released theatrically in the United States in 2012 and is now available via streaming and on Blu-ray and DVD.