VOD film review: The Awakening
James R | On 16, Dec 2017
Director: Nick Murphy
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead Wright
We all thought the same thing when we saw Pride and Prejudice: Pemberley would make be a cracking place to set a horror story. Well, now we’ve been proved right, because Nick Murphy’s made a horror movie there. And it’s even scarier than Mr. Darcy’s manners.
Florence Cathcart (Hall) is a woman who believes in science over spirits. She runs around period England disproving paranormal acitivity, using nothing more than a bag of mechanical contraptions and her brain. She’s like the new Jonathan Creek. A ghostbuster, 1920s style.
Inevitably, she’s called away to a boarding school where some real life ghosts have been spotted. Tradition dictates that it all turns out to be true and Stephen Volk’s script enjoys playing with that expectation. There’s Tom (Hempstead Wright), the only boy left after the other pupils go home for half-term. There’s the suspicious caretaker. There’s even a tight-lipped old maid (Staunton) and a sinister schoolteacher (West) to boot. But Murphy’s spooky story adds depth to these stock characters, absorbing you in Cathcart’s quiet investigations. And that’s when he really brings out the shocks.
It’s all fairly standard stuff, from the blurry-faced child to the flashbacky final act, but the conclusion carries serious emotional weight, thanks to Hall’s performance. At first intelligent and controlled then believably distraught, her character is a great creation – it’s oddly appropriate, given the BBC Films funding, that she feels like the smart protagonist of a new TV series.
Movie conventions eventually take over, and she has to conform, to some extent, to the genre’s hysterical stereotype. But Murphy’s production distracts from any risk of disappointment – mostly by making you pee your pants. Murphy’s direction is astute: he smartly sets most scenes during the day, letting the building’s cold personality turn Pemberley into an foreign, unsettling place – and that atmosphere is accompanied by an effective string of eerie arpeggios, plus Imelda Staunton’s prim expressions and Dominic West’s eyebrows. The result is a classic haunted house tale that packs emotion and chills aplenty into 107 tense minutes. If only there were another 6 episodes.