Published Aug 16, 2012Though likely not a populist opinion, given the subtlety of composition and humble continuity of the aesthetic, Eduard Grau's cinematography in Nick Murphy's deceptively clever female-driven thriller, The Awakening, is some of the best you'll see in 2012.
Beyond the washed-out, aqua template and deep, looming shadows, his framing and perspective of each individual shot captures the beauty of every moment without resorting to the showy, but still exquisite stylizations he demonstrated in Tom Ford's superficial vanity piece, A Single Man.
Here, the impeccably lit shots of rain-soaked fields and empty rooms reflect the loneliness of protagonist Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), a sceptical woman driven by the need to disprove the existence of ghosts, or, more accurately, the notion of God and an afterlife. Being a highly educated academic in early 1920s England and having lost her lover in the war, she is hardened to opposition and unwavering in her determination to spread the word of harsh reality, or science, to the masses.
This character portrait, mixed with later revelations of self-punishment and the greater feminine allegory of repressed intuition, is what drives and elevates this horror-thriller beyond the genre. As she travels from her urban locale to a remote boys school to investigate the claim of an apparition, as presented by wounded war vet Robert Mallory (Dominic West), her identity is deconstructed via actions and cleverly presented dialogue that mix ideology with theme and character development.
It's the handling of science versus faith ― without ever calling attention to itself ― along with this smart, intentional handling of the necessary modifications of female identity within the vacuum of male academia and industry that make The Awakening memorable and empowering viewing beyond the hauntingly stunning cinematography.
But where this low-key ghost story struggles is in tethering its surface narrative to the sharp social observations looming beneath. Florence's investigation of the ghost intrigues initially, building up some minor scares and ensuring the voyeuristic eye is always that of our female protagonist. Unfortunately, once the greater message overpowers the needs of the story, taking a turn that makes little sense to the basic plot (think Haunting in Connecticut), most will be far too wrapped up in possible plot holes and limited foreshadowing to appreciate what's really being said.
It's a shame, since this sly allegory of the many things that went missing during the war, beyond human life, is far more profound than anyone will give it credit for. (eOne)