Movie TItle: The Awakening
Director: Nick Murphy
Release Date: September 16th, 2011
Date Seen: August 17th, 2012 (the USA limited release date)
Part 1 – Spoiler Free Quickie Review
I enjoyed this movie. Yes, it’s not a new story, yes, we’ve seen it before. But it does keep you entertained and that’s what matters. The characters in this movie weren’t “stuffy” like I feel they sometimes are in period pieces. The main girl was likeable even with her problems. I recommend you see it when you’re in the mood for a ghost movie, even though you can guess pretty much what is going to happen.
Part 2 – In-depth Spoiler Ridden Review/Synopsis
The movie opens in 1921, England, with Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) going to a house and entering upon showing that she “brought it” – a picture of a man in a military uniform. She sits down at a table with about 7 or 8 others. They are preparing to have a séance. The séance begins with them grabbing hands and putting a dead crow body in front of the old woman leading the séance. The man chanting asks for the ghosts to give a sign or something, and they look back at the crow and it is all maggoty now. Two people at the table turn and stare at an old woman in between her. The woman then stares into the glass in front of her and sees a shadow of what appears to be her deceased daughter. Suddenly, Florence screams “Ah-ha!” and pulls a wig off a small boy – revealing the whole thing to be a sham. She shows all the trickery in the room and has the scam artists arrested. We find out through her discourse with a police investigator that she is often does these reveals – partly to prove to herself that there is no way her deceased ex lover is ever coming back (the man in the photo).
Florence goes home and is visibly upset. Each time she does one of these reveals she just gets upset again, and the old couple she stays with hates to see her this way. The doorbell rings and a man is there with a copy of Florence’s book. She takes it from him and signs it but is also annoyed that he came to her home – she loves fans but this is ridiculous. Right before she shuts the door the man says he actually hated the book and came to talk to her.
The man is Robert Mallory (Dominic West) a teacher at an all-boys boarding school a little ways away. He explains that he is there because some people at his school swear they have seen the ghost of a boy who died there many years ago. And one boy died three weeks ago at the school, so now the boys are even more frightened. Florence tells Robert she’s not taking any new work – but he insists. He shows her these pictures that were taken every year for the last 15 years – a ghostly boy appears in all of them. Florence says it’s common for a boy to run down and try to make it on both ends and he must have still been moving when the camera swept by. Robert points out the picture taken just last week with a scary face in the window that can’t be explained. Florence kicks Robert out, saying sorry she can’t help. He says something to her that gets her thinking – in her book she mentions how she hated being scared as a child and fear was the most crippling thing – so she should help these children.
This kicked her butt and she decides to go. They head to the school, driven by Edward Judd (Joseph Mawle), the school groundskeeper. It’s clear there’s some tension between Judd and Robert. They arrive at the school as the boys are finishing up a run. Florence is introduced to the house mother, Maud Hill (Imelda Staunton). Robert tells Florence that Maud adores Florence’s book and is so excited to meet her. This is clear because she doesn’t want to leave Florence’s side at any time – she is enfatuated with her. As they all go into the school, Florence says hi to some boys, with a few standing out such as a redheaded boy, Victor (Alfie Field), and another boy on the stairwell, Tom (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who is also very interested in Florence. Robert, Maud, and Florence go up to the headmasters office. He explains that he wants to find out both what killed the little boy, Walter, the couple of weeks ago as well as try to figure out which little boy is scaring the rest of them pretending to be this ghost boy. Florence says she will do her best and asks for a tour of the school. The headmaster takes her to the dining room. We see all the boys sitting at the tables, completely silent, monitored by Malcom McNair (Shaun Dooley), a fellow teacher. Victor, the redheaded boy, goes to sit at the only seat left at one table and as soon as he sits down all the other boys get up and leave. Tom hesitates for a moment but gets up as well.
Robert continues the tour and it goes down to where Walter was found dead. It’s right out side the building. Walter was known as “Wheezy Walter” for his asthma. Robert again is making “I hate you” glares to Edward and we find out that Robert doesn’t like Edward because he (Robert) fought in the recent war (WWI), but Edward faked a limp and needing glasses so that he didn’t have to go. Florence looks around the spot where Walter was found and finds a black glass bead. She asks Maud if Walter had a toy animal – she says yes, it was a bear, and was on his bed the morning he died. She goes and gets it and sees that the glass bead is the bear eye. So someone must have taken the bear and put it back on his bed. Robert has to leave – he starts having a little attack – and we see him go to his room and appear to have a seizure. It’s not ever really explained…. oh well.
Maud takes Florence to a classroom. Malcom is conducting class, having the boys read aloud from their books. At one point he stops and starts coughing horribly. A boy in the back makes fun of him. Malcom calls him out for it and punishes him by slapping his hand over and over with his cane. Then he lets Maud and Florence talk. Florence asks if anyone knew Walter – they all did but he didn’t have friends. Aw. She then asks about the ghost. The same boy who had his hand slapped explains that he has seen the ghost and it was terrifying and explains that it looks like a little boy but with a hurt face. The last stop on the tour is Walter’s old dormitory. His bed is stripped so you can see a big yellow stain. Florence asks Maud if many of the boys bed wet – and Maud says the ones that are bullied often do. She asks if the other boys in the dorm can sleep somewhere else for the night – and so they are all moved to the cafeteria to sleep. Maud tucks everyone in, including Victor, and tells him that he needs to start standing up for himself. He rolls over and Tom smiles at him before they go to sleep.
That night, Florence sets up a number of tools to help her “detect” the ghost (such as magnets, temperature gauges) as well as things to help catch the culprit if it is indeed faked (which she always is leaning towards). One thing she does is set up a number of cameras that when a cord is tripped will take a picture. She also sets up newspaper with some powder on it to catch a footprint of the person. She hangs out and waits for a while and then notices a hole in the wall. She looks through it and sees Robert in the bath. She watches him as he gets out and sits down on the edge of the tub. He has a strange scar/burn/tumor/thing (we couldn’t figure out what it was exactly) on the side of his thigh. He cuts it open and pours in some anesthetic stuff. As she is watching him she suddenly hears one of her trip wires go off – so she runs to go see who tripped it. She follows the shadow of a young boy, who has left footprints up and down the house and finally to a linen closet, where she finds an empty pillowcase that was on top of the boys head. Then she hears another bell go off and goes to see it. In the entry way of the house she finds a dollhouse. She opens the rooms of it up but they are all empty. Then out of the corner of her eye she thinks she sees a boy. She doesn’t. She gets up but then thinks she sees a man step through a doorway with a shotgun. She goes over to it but Robert comes out saying he heard the bells and what was it.
The next day the headmaster brings the boys into a room in groups of threes to spray the bottoms of their feet with some stuff – Florence says so she can tell exactly which boy was the one running around upstairs. Two mean looking boys and Victor comes in. She sprays their feet – and Victor’s foot turns purple. The headmaster demands to know why he did it. He says the boys told him that if he scared Florence that they wouldn’t make fun of him anymore. But he swears that he didn’t scare Walter the night he died he swears. The two mean boys deny they made him do it and Florence says “well, there was another boy there too last night.” Malcom goes to grab one of the boys to beat it out of him who the other boy was. As Malcom walks by, Florence stops him – she asks him if he uses some type of cream (I forgot what it was, maybe like a menthol or something). He says yes. She could smell it on him – and the bear of Walter’s. She thinks that that night Walter died he (Malcom) was there. He finally breaks down after some prodding by the headmaster and says that he caught Walter running about screaming about some ghost he saw. He took Walter outside and left him to “toughen him up”. He then says “no one dies of fright…” Florence points out that Walter must have died of an asthma attack because of the fright. Oh no.
The next day happens to be the day that all the boys were leaving for a week-long vacation with their families anyway. So it is a convenient time for Malcom to leave the school. Florence says that she will leave that day as well. There is a church service before everyone leaves. Florence hangs out outside and talks to creepy Edward for a bit instead of attending. He is out there hunting it appears. Then the boys start to exit the church with their parents excited to go home. Maud tells Florence that they all go home and Tom is the only boy who stays. Later we find out why. Florence goes down to the dock on the small little pond to smoke a cigarette. There is a shotgun noise though and she drops her cigarette case (that at some point is alluded is not hers – it was her dead lover’s) and cigarettes on the dock. She goes to pick them all up but kicks her cigarette case into the water. She trys to get it but can’t – especially when there is a flash of a scary kid face in the water. She kind of sits there on the dock for a minute and then has this “well screw life” face and just rolls off into the water. She doesn’t come back up. Robert sees though and jumps in and saves her.
Back at the house Maud is making Florence tea while she warms up by the fire. Florence asks Tom why he doesn’t go home. It is because his parents are in India – it takes them three weeks just to get back. So on short breaks he is stuck there. He asks if Florence has ever been to India and where are her parents. She then tells him a story about how she got a scar on her shoulder – it looks like three scratch marks. She says she was with her parents in a foreign country and there was a lion attack, but because she was little it just scratched her. An indian tribe took her in. Her parents though… and then Maud tells Tom to go away because she and Florence are going to have “grownup talk.” He mumbles off about how he likes grownup talk but goes away. Maud is disappointed in Florence and her apathy towards death. She also tells her that she needs to stay a little longer. Florence says no, I’m leaving asap. She goes to the bathroom and Robert has drawn her a hot bath. They kind of awkwardly flirt for a minute. He leaves her and she gets in. She kind of plays with her self in the water and then remembers the hole in the wall. She gets up and starts to put on a little show saying “Robert, I know you’re there. Don’t go.” When she gets down to look through the hole – no one is there – then suddenly the scary child face appears ahh! She quickly puts on a robe and chases the ghost boy to an upstairs room. Inside the room the door slowly shuts, but not all the way. There is also the same doll house that she saw earlier. This time she looks in the windows rather than opening the door. She is in shock by what she sees – each room in the dollhouse is a scene from the last couple of days. Her in the headmasters office, them entering the cafeteria, her watching Robert through the hole in the wall, spraying the boys feet – and even the uppermost room has her staring into a dollhouse…. with a boy standing behind her. She turns around quickly but no one is there.
Florence is now on a mission. She tells Robert and Maud that she is staying because she came to sort out what it was the boys were seeing and she intends on doing so. Her biggest task is figuring out how the ghost boy is moving through the house like there are no walls (because remember, she still is on the “There is no way it’s a real ghost” kick). She remembers that the school used to be a house a long time ago and thus probably has secret compartments or tunnels – and she finds one in the downstairs corridor. In the one she opens she finds a bunny doll that sings a slightly creepy lullaby about a ladybug whose house is on fire and all her kids are gone but one. Super creepy. She tells Robert to go lock all the doors and she is going to start setting up her equipment. Tom starts freaking out saying that the ghost wants to kill him now and scare him to death just like it scared Walter. She calms him down and he helps her set up some of the stuff. He asks about her picture of the man in a military outfit. She tells the story of how they were in love, and he went to the war. She wrote him saying she didn’t love him and that she couldn’t marry him – and then he died a few days later. But she really did love him. Why did she write the letter in the first place? It doesn’t really say. Maud comes to get Tom ready for dinner and before he goes, he kisses Florence on the forehead. Maud says “no one understands loneliness better than those who live here…”.
Maud and Tom are in a drawing room playing solitare (well, Maud is trying to teach Tom). Florence has just set up her tools but to a whole new extreme. There is one room that has like 10 tripwires to different cameras. She also has the magnet things everywhere in the dormitory. She is looking out the window and hears a noise behind her. She starts to notice the magnet things all pointing in crazy directions. She leans down to fix one and we see a boys feet sitting in a desk behind her. She looks up and sees no one. When she goes back down to keep fixing the magnet, she sees a woman’s shoe just sitting there. Then the magnets all start pointing inward at the same thing. There is a noise coming from near where the cameras are and so she runs to it. She sees the man with the shotgun again and he is pointing it at her. She starts to run backward and sets off the tripwires and falls into the others. She then gets up, chasing the ghost boy again to the bottom of the stairs. She is now screaming for Tom saying how could he do this to her and she knows it’s him screwing with her. But his whole time, we’ve been intercut with scenes of Maud and Tom playing in the drawing room and Maud telling Tom to ignore Florence. Finally they come up and Florence yells directly at Tom. He says he didn’t do anything wrong and runs off crying. Maud gives her the “I can’t believe you just did that to him.” look and says something about how she thought that Florence was a nice woman but apparently she is not.
Florence gets help from Robert to develop the pictures from the camera in the room. Florence is sure this will prove that they are all screwing with her and just messing with her head. She thinks they’re all scam artist. However, in each picture, there is no man with a shotgun. We see the progression of her fall from the various angles – and no man. The culmination is the final picture facing directly where the man should have been standing – and he isn’t there. But there is the shadow of the ghost boy in the corner. Suddenly with this “omg ghosts are real” feeling – she and Robert start making out and end up having sex. Because that’s clearly the next logical step in anyones mind after discovering ghosts are real.
A little while later (as in the amount of time it took them to do it) we hear a bell go off. But a different bell than the bells she set up. This is one of the old house bells, that someone could ring in a room to call a servant to them. Maud goes to investigate and makes Tom promise to stay in the drawing room. He does and starts playing ping-pong with himself against a wall. Robert also goes to investigate because it appears to be very weird to them both that this bell is going off. Robert gets side tracked and follows a nosie – and gets locked in a room. Florence is still laying there in bed, kind of looking at where Robert’s body was – and all of a sudden a face shape pops up in the pillow. She screams, rips the feather pillow open and finds nothing inside… except her lost cigarette case. She runs out of the room and out of the house. Maud runs to the scream and finds her gone but sees the mess.
Outside, Florence runs into Edward. He is kind of short with her and so she randomly brings up the fact that he’s a loser for not going to war. This pisses him off so he hits her with his shotgun, knocking her out for a minute. He drags her off into the woods and starts to try to rape her. She wakes up and fights him off and ends up slapping him with the shotgun really hard a few times. She runs back to the house and her screams have brought Robert and Maud outside. She tells them what happened and how she thinks she killed Edward. Robert tells Maud to draw a bath for Florence and he will go check on Edward. Florence starts to go in the house and says “Robert, wait, don’t tell Tom about what happened, he doesn’t need to know. He’s a lonely enough boy anyway.” Robert looks at her strangely as he runs off saying “Florence, remember, all the kids are gone, it’s only us three here.” (not counting the now dead Edward).
Florence has the “oh holy shit” moment – and rather than go to the bath she goes into that chamber in the wall she found earlier. She follows it to a hidden room, and the dollhouse is there. Behind her, Tom appears. For a second he has the scary face but then looks like the cute Tom she’s been seeing the whole time. He tells Florence that he didn’t mean to scare Walter that night, it was an accident. No one can usually see him. It just sometimes happens. Florence says she knows it was an accident. Tom then begs her to look into the dollhouse – because there’s something that she needs to remember. She fights with him for a bit and tries to run off – but ends up remembering a whole story. She used to live in this house, when she was young. Her father wanted a son – but the mother was never getting pregnant again, so the father was angry. We see a young Florence watching her parents fight from inside the walls. The wife brings up the “bastard son” – which is Tom. So it is revealed that Tom and Florence grew up together. We then see a scene where young Florence witnesses the father shoot the wife – with a shotgun. And her shoe falls off (flash to the shoe she saw earlier). Young Florence runs out and screams no! And stands in the way of the gun. Current Florence tries to run away from this memory by leaving the room – no good – every single door she opens she sees the memory frozen with her dad pointing a shotgun at her. The dad is the man she had been seeing in the house, thinking it was a ghost. It’s actually a pretty cool scene because every time she opens the door we have a different angle of the scene. Young Florence then runs and hides in the walls, navigating them while her dad shoots blindly into them. At one point she crawls up to the room where Florence found the rabbit doll. Tom is playing cards in there. They both are quiet and hide. The rabbit doll though starts going off – so he takes the gun and shoots it into the wall – and Tom’s body falls out of it. Young Florence has some wood shrapnel go into her shoulder. She then witnesses her dad devastated at having shot the son take the gun and shoot himself. A picture of a lion attacking a young mare is behind him (probably why she made up the lion story to her young self). Then young Florence is seen being whisked away by a servant, while another servant runs up to her dead son – it’s Maud.
Florence is now seen sitting on the stairs having followed the memory to this point. Maud comes and explains to her that her and Tom just wanted Florence to remember – afterall, they are family. Maud wetnursed Florence and raised her along with Tom. They were best friends. Then, both her and Tom were taken from her. She just wanted Florence to come home and remember – and that’s why she did have Tom scare Florence once or twice. Florence accepts this pretty easily as she now seems to remember it all. Robert comes in and sees Maud and Florence hugging. They all go to the kitchen and Robert talks to Florence about how no one will ever know about what happened with Edward. They’ll just say he left the school and don’t know anything about him. Maud comes in and ask to have a word with Florence. Robert leaves and Maud, Tom, and Florence talk like a family. Maud pours them a drink. After Florence drinks hers, Tom’s face changes to a look of panic. Florence asks what is wrong and he says “Mom said it’d be ok… That you’d understand…” Florence looks at Maud’s empty cup and realizes that Maud has poisoned them both – so that they all might be together in the after life. She screams for Robert who quickly sees Maud slump to the floor and realize what is happening. Florence tells him to run to the medicine cabinet and get something to make her sick. He kind of fails at it because it appears that whatever will make her vomitron is gone. Florence tells Tom that she was never happy until she met him, Tom. She now needs to live her life, and can’t die yet because then she’ll never be happy. She convinces Tom to “move through the walls” to get the medicine to make her throw up the poison – saying that she’ll come when she’s ready and happy to him. He does, and gives her the medicine. She throws up but then closes her eyes with Tom in her arms. Robert runs in and sees her lying there.
We now see a few days later when the boys are returning to school. We see Florence walking through the school in her coat, unsure if she is alive or dead. She goes up behind Robert outside and he says “I know you’re there…” So we still don’t know. She says hi to Victor – and he responds, hinting she is alive. Her and Robert chat, and it’s clear that they are still together, but she has to go to town for a while and will be back soon. She starts to walk to the car, and as she goes she says bye to a number of kids who all say bye, including their families, thus indicating that she is in fact alive.
Yeah, I’ve seen it before, I know the plot, but I liked it and that’s what matters. I loved the little boy playing Tom, and I loved that the main character wasn’t extremely annoying like in most ghost movies.