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December 15th, 2011

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08:59 am - The Awakening
Cold winter nights are good for ghost stories. Last night I went to see The Awakening which is a new low-budget British film, starring the ubiquitous Dominic West, and Rebecca Hall - I haven't seen her before, but she's very good.

The film is set in 1921. Everyone is bereaved and traumatised by the recent war. I liked the expression of this painful and transitional stage of British history. Rebecca Hall plays a very interesting character: an atheist sceptic and debunker of Spiritualism, of that generation which is trying to be new type of woman. She is called in to debunk a rumour of a ghost at a newly established private school in the Lake District. The headmaster wants the rumours sorted out before they scare away paying customers. Dominic West is the Latin master, who is still suffering from shell shock.

Hall is the main protagonist and p.o.v. She's complex and intelligent, enjoyable to follow. The atmosphere of the big house where the school has been established is well done, and the scary stuff is quite effective. It's not some all-out mega-horror - it's a gentle ghost story.

It is difficult to resolve a ghost story. I mean, full stop, ghost stories are hard to bring to a satisfactory conclusion, because they dramatise uncertainty and disorientation. And in this case, do we simply want the sensible sceptic to be proved wrong (ha ha ghosts are real, so much for science)? That doesn't seem a resolution, just authorial fiat.

In the event the ending was plausible and ambiguous enough. However I still didn't like the resolution as much as the build up. Perhaps I just don't like resolution at all.

Oh, I must just mention one scene, which is not quite like anything I have seen before in a film. Hall finds a little hole in the wall of one room, which lets her spy Dominic West in the bath. Well, I don't blame her for having a little peek. But he starts self-harming - cutting his leg with a razor presumably as a way of coping with trauma and guilt. I've not seen male emotional vulnerability portrayed in that way in a film before, and that being part of what draws her to him. It makes sense as a way of externalising the internal harm which everyone is experiencing as a result of the war, which is really the subject of the film I think.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2011 09:14 am (UTC)
This sounds great; right up my street.
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2011 09:44 am (UTC)
Relies a bit heavily on the old 'sudden close up of a scary face' thing. A bit like a modern Spanish low budget horror in that respect.
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2011 09:45 am (UTC)
That kind of thing scares the bejesus out of me, I'm neither proud nor sophistimacated.
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2011 10:29 am (UTC)
Thanks for the review. I want to see this. :)
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2011 11:22 am (UTC)
I meant to say in the review that Imelda Staunton is the school matron, on whose suggestion the female investigator is brought in. She does a good job as a kind of sinister silent figure.
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
I have singularly failed to Watch More Films, but always happy to fantasize about doing so.

I have been surprising myself, this last decade, by watching a number of films which might be classified as horror, and quite enjoying them.

**wanders off and thinks to herself how she could have enjoyed detective genre all these years, for the same reasons she enjoyed the horror ones, now she comes to think about it **

Yes, got it: in the sort of films I like, whether the horror comes from the supernatural or from man's-inhumanity-to-man, or tregedy, or evil, or whatever other sweeping generalisation, the film is designed to make me think. It is not designed to make me hide my head in a sofa cushion and tell myself little mouse stories. Now, I do appreciate that there are sizeable audiences that do like being scared out of their wits, but not me. I like to be scared, but scared with my wits intact.

Mind you, I'm easily scared - Dr Who inspired several little mouse stories when I was a child.

Which is all not what I meant to reply to you about at all - which was the self harming. I saw RC Sherrif's play "Journeys End" a few months back. It was writen a few years after The Awakening is set, and includs a character - a decorated war hero, idolised by his men - who self-harms with alcohol.

I wonder if, as well as being a film about the externalising the internal harm from WWI, it is also part of something similar happening in contemporary society.

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