[This is a re-post of my review from the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. The Awakening opens today in limited release.]
You can keep your modern ghost stories. I understand why they would terrify some people, but those films tend to leave me cold. They use modern science to find something which cannot be scientifically explained, but trying to find ghosts the same way special ops teams try to find terrorists diminishes the illusion. You can only shake the camera so much before I wonder if the ghosts have access to a tripod. The stories also tend to lack any subtext and generating scares is their sole mission. I prefer my ghost stories gothic and foreboding and that’s why I adored Nick Murphy‘s The Awakening. The film still uses the same conceit of using the scientific to explore the paranormal, but does so with early 1920s technology and it’s far more exciting to see an investigator who uses cameras which rely on a trip-wire and a magnesium flash than someone who went down to the local Best Buy and asked for a quality camcorder. In addition to its creativity, Murphy paints a gorgeous picture that delivers the thrills, chills, and terrific performances from Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, and Imelda Staunton.