Managing to both have too much going on and not enough at all, THE AWAKENING (2011) is sadly a middling period piece that at the end of the day is inconsequential regardless of how pretty it looks. Its promising conceit of hoax debunker and staunch disbeliever in all manners spectral Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) being called to a boys’ boarding school in the country to determine if there is a legitimate spook roaming its halls is a classic set-up for a ghost story if there ever was one, but the script co-written by director Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk (GHOSTWATCH) feels the need to pile on shocking revelations that tie Hall’s character in with the haunting that just feels like so much whip cream on a miniscule cupcake. It’s a habit of contemporary filmmakers to not leave well enough alone and allow things to just ride out. The power of the story is not affected whatsoever by the fact that Cathcart is related to the resident spirit; where the tale really gets its mileage is in seeing the previously assured atheist shaken to her core as very real evidence of the supernatural piles up around her. The central spirit here is woefully vanilla to boot, another in a very, very long line of hazy apparitions with wide, yawning mouths and oh no I’ve fallen asleep. Whatever happened to the perversely imaginative horrors of M. R. James? As a society more free and loose than that repressed academic provost, we sure have a lot of trouble thinking of anything half as fucking creepy as he did.

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