The Awakening (2011)

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Joseph Mawle, Isaac Hempstead Wright

Directed by: Nick Murphy

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Rebecca Hall as ghost hunter Florence Cathcart in The Awakening

The year is 1921, and Britain is haunted by the ghosts of war and disease. Florence Cathcart (the ever-wonderful Rebecca Hall) is a bluestocking ghostbuster dedicated to debunking pedlars of spiritual bunkum and charlatan mediums who prey on the grieving.

As such, she's perfectly qualified to take on a job at a boys' public school, where a pupil appears to have been literally scared to death by the ghost of a child murdered in the house twenty years ago.

So far so steampunk ghost hunting equipment, weird, blurry-faced spectral boy, sinister groundsman and things that laugh eerily in the night. (Not to mention the deserted room inhabited only by a creepy dollshouse – possibly the most unlikely room to have in a school since Suspiria's razor wire store...)

But just as you're starting to think you've seen it all before (think Poltergeist meets The Orphanage) and that the redoubtable Cathcart will save the day, things take a turn for the unexpected. Is our heroine the rational, level-headed scientist she believes herself to be? Or, orphaned in horrific circumstances and bereaved during the war, is she as damaged as the disfigured ghost she's tracking?

Dominic West and Rebecca Hall in The Awakening

Well, no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that The Awakening is a seriously superior ghost story in the grand old tradition of The Turn of the Screw. The cast is top notch: alongside Hall, who carries the film with her usual Emma Thompson-esque aplomb, we have Dominic West, versatile as ever as the shell-shocked history master who engages her services, and the fabulous Imelda Staunton as the school's stalwart matron. The ghostly effects are subtly spooky, with some nice jumpy bits that (mostly) serve to advance the plot, rather than merely providing random boo factor, and the story, while perhaps a little over-long (and possibly holey on a second viewing), nevertheless really keeps you guessing.

I doubt it'll keep you awake at night, but if you liked The Orphanage or The Sixth Sense, it's definitely worth checking out The Awakening.

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