Ghost stories are best when they work on the slow burn, letting the tension pile up through the accumulation of small events. Any of the individual items is laughable if explained, but the total is much more than the sum of its parts. That’s why ghost stories work so well with characters who are already suspected of insanity, of inherently unreliable narrators, because then there’s a meta tension, a mystery not only of the events but of the veracity of the events.
The Awakening is one of those slow burn stories, and it grounds itself firmly in 1921, in a society that moves just a beat slower than ours anyway. It can get away with harsh colors and stark architecture because it fits with the time, all the while creeping us out with scenery with hardly a diversion into anything actually supernatural. 1921 is probably the least popular year of the twentieth century in which to set films. It’s too late to be World War One, too early to be the Great Depression. The year is one of those middle children of history.
Here’s the full plot summary:
Set in London in 1921, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), author of the popular book “Seeing Through Ghosts,” has devoted her career to exposing claims of the supernatural as nothing but hoaxes. Haunted by the recent death of her fiancé, she is approached by Robert Mallory (Dominic West) to investigate the recent death of a student at the all-boys boarding school where he teaches. When students at the school report sightings of the young boy’s ghost, she decides to take on the case. Initially, the mystery surrounding the ghost appears nothing more than a schoolboy prank, but as Florence continues to investigate events at the school, she begins to believe that her reliance on science may not be enough to explain the strange phenomenon going on around her.
And here is the first ten minutes of the film:
Paranormal Downton for the win.