Blu-ray Review: The Awakening [M15]

Dir: Nick Murphy
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton

The Film: With the fairly positive word of mouth The Awakening had been receiving, I was quite enthused to check this one out. I remained opened minded and didn’t expect to either like or dislike it. After the initial set up with the film, I was completely hooked and I was glued to the screen the entire time. This was a film that even managed to creep me out a little and I did actually react to an impressive scene full of ‘jump scares’.

This is a classic ghost tale, and it is one done well, something that seems to be a bit of a rarity these days. Out of the last decade or so, we have seen some great films of the type with The Others and The Devil’s Backbone and this is almost at that level. With so many ‘haunting’ type films, this really was something refreshing and different. Perhaps it is the historical setting that helps, as this plus those mentioned have those and the wave of haunting pictures do not really. It is a wonderful piece of atmosphere, with a very solid story behind it.

The year is 1921; the setting is England during a period of loss and hardship after the First World War. Our main character is Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), a woman who has some fame to her as an author and one who reveals con artists and hoaxing to do with supernatural elements. This leads her to meet Robert Mallory (Dominic West), a war veteran that deals with a boarding school. He tells her that the headmaster has sent for her to investigate a ghost that is frightening children, so much so that one had died. She finds out there was a murder at the boarding school many years’ prior and strange events had been occurring for some time. Florence heads off to Cumbria, she is greeted by the governess Maud (Imelda Staunton), and through speaking to people there and setting up her own investigating techniques she is determined to uncover the truth. Her own sense of skeptic is threatened when she also starts to experience strange things. What exactly is going on? You’ll have to watch to find out!

This is quite an interesting film, there is actually a lot at play and it is the type of film where the audience can play detective along with the lead character. I had my suspicions of where the story was leading, and once it all unfolded I found that I was correct with one suspicion but completely surprised by everything else. The Awakening is not a film where it’s reveal comes out of nowhere, we know we will find something out, but the clues are definitely there in places, which I discovered upon a second viewing the next day. A lot of care was placed with this, and every scene does have a reason and it was played out to fit with what we see and what is really actually there. It is always nice to see hard work, and it really does pay off, as this is a really great experience. Perhaps the only let down is the ending, which can be a little silly but it doesn’t ruin the experience.

The cast consists of fantastic actors, and each one really worked for their role and so much effort and understanding existed there too. Rebecca Hall who has fast become one of my current favourite actors is superb. She has not disappointed me yet, and she really brought forth such a strong showing as Florence. I could tell she had explored this character she was playing, and taken a lot of care in expressing herself. Dominic West is another personal favourite, and definitely an underrated one at that. His work here is some of the best I have seen from him, much like Hall he understood his character and he explored it. Every little thing he does really lets us know who he is, from his minor stutter to how he carries and presents himself. Impressive for sure, and it was nice to see him in a larger and fleshed out role in a film. Imelda Staunton was great, but she always is though. She was really quite understated in this film, which really worked for the character of Maud. There is something slightly off about her character, and it is hard to place your finger on it through the film, but I knew it was there for a reason and this woman played that so well.

Truly The Awakening is one of the most visually stunning films I have seen this year, the colour is so understated, reflecting the time period and the mood of the people. If colour is on the screen, it does jump out at us, which I really liked as it did add to the story being told. What I liked a lot about this was the under lying story, and the metaphorical meaning behind the ghost/s. I felt that was a really nice play and touch, which certainly enhanced this experience for me. The script by Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk is one that does work, and it translated well to the screen. I guess it helped that one of the writers also directed the piece, but it seemed like Murphy certainly knew what he wanted and how he wanted to do it. For me this was an impressive film, I was engaged with everything about it, and I found I just didn’t experience a dull moment. This wont be a film for everyone, but I think it will be something of interest to those who like these types of films or fans of those involved.

The Australian DVD 
Audio/Video: The video is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p. Audio is presented with DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, with English Audio Description available. It contains English Caption subtitles – descriptive for the hearing impaired.

This is one of the most stunning blu-ray transfers I have ever seen, the picture quality is amazing. The clarity and beauty of the picture really brings the film to life, it truly was made for high-definition. The audio is clear, loud and crisp, the sound levels are pitch perfect, it is quite the experience.

Extras:
* Audio Commentary with writer/director Nick Murphy
* Interview with Nick Murphy
* Behind The Scenes
* Deleted Scenes with Director’s Introduction
* BAFTA Q&A
* Anatomy of a Scene: Florence and the Lake
* A Time For Ghosts
* Anatomy of a Scream
* Trailer

I was blown away but the sheer amount of bonus features, but also by the fact most of them are in-depth and last longer than a few minutes. This is one of the most impressive sets I have seen this year, between the film itself, the HD transfer and features, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The audio commentary is a good listen, Nick Murphy goes through all sorts of aspect with the film and explains a lot of things. It is definitely worth listening to after you’ve watched the film, it will enhance that experience. The interview with Nick is extensive, and he delves into a lot of different things, I found it rather ironic to hear his stance on horror considering how well this film works as one. Behind The Scenes feature goes for around 34 minutes, it is very extensive as well. We hear from cast and crew, hear their takes on things and explore the characters and story a little more, well worth checking out.

The deleted scenes are interesting, I can understand why they were left out but it is good to see what didn’t make it, and have the director explain why they were cut. BAFTA Q&A is a fluff piece, and aside from the trailer the shortest in length of the features. Both of the Anatomy extras are just great, I love how much they explored and expanded upon things. It is interesting to hear about the motivations of the Lake scene, as well as setting the mood for the film. A Time For Ghosts is a great piece, very interesting take on the time the film was set and it was actually quite interesting.

Overall Rating

Thanks to Ben from MadMan for his support.

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