Blu-ray Review: Deadly Dull Thriller ‘The Awakening’ Lulls Audience to Sleep

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CHICAGO – In contrast with the other subpar supernatural blockbusters released last August, Nick Murphy’s “The Awakening” lacks the cheesy thrills of “The Possession” and the hilarious ineptitude of “The Apparition.” Instead, it’s a humorless and ponderous bore buoyed only slightly by its vivid lead performance from Rebecca Hall, a supremely gifted character actress who has yet to receive the cinematic showcase she deserves.

As headstrong skeptic Florence, Hall charges through the picture, determined to debunk every rumored instance of paranormal activity. Sadly, the clunky script co-authored by Murphy and Stephen Volk spells out all of her inner turmoil with the most dreadfully monotonous exposition. Even before she’s swept into the film’s central mystery, the audience is already bored to tears. Blu-ray Rating: 2.0/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 2.0/5.0

Murphy has a background in BBC documentaries (such as the splendid reality TV miniseries, “Manor House”), so perhaps he was attracted to the material because of its historical backdrop of post-WWI England. The film’s haunted characters cling to the notion of an afterlife as a comforting alternative to the devastating extinction of their loved ones. This is a fine premise for a horror film, but Murphy has no idea of how to create a sense of tangible atmosphere beyond utilizing a color palette of drab grays and browns. The pacing is completely off in each potentially unsettling set-piece, as ominous threats inevitably enter the frame with all the glacial speed of a reluctant snail. Not long after Florence is asked by wounded war veteran Robert (Dominic West) to investigate an alleged haunting at a boarding school, the pair of opposites become inexplicably attracted to one another. The script supplies absolutely no basis for this attraction, beyond Murphy’s desire to include some gratuitous nudity (which solely justifies the film’s R-rating). Imelda Staunton camps it up as a housekeeper not all that far removed from Frau Blucher, while Isaac Hempstead Wright (of “Game of Thrones” fame) fulfills the thankless task of wandering through rooms as the standard pale-faced kid. At least he’s creepier than the actual ghost, which has a smudged face that appears to have been supernaturally photoshopped.

The Awakening was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 29th, 2013.
The Awakening was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 29th, 2013.
Photo credit: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Yet none of the film’s gross missteps prepare the audience for its phenomenally incoherent final act, which attempts to combine every twist ending that M. Night Shyamalan ever desired to rip off. It’s appallingly misconceived, as the actors scramble to explain a series of rug-pulling surprises that irritate and baffle to no end. At the center of it all is lovely Rebecca Hall, dutifully emoting on cue while desperately attempting to inject a dose of humanity into this soulless exercise. She deserves to put her mammoth efforts to far better use.

“The Awakening” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English and Spanish subtitles and includes several featurettes of staggering length (clocking in over two hours). Murphy proves to be as serious and humorless as his own film, as he expounds on the historical period that he desired to capture. He admits that horror is not one of his favorite genres and makes no secret of the fact that he absolutely doesn’t believe in ghosts. At all. No wonder his would-be thriller is dead on arrival.

‘The Awakening’ is released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment and stars Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton and Isaac Hempstead Wright. It was written by Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy and directed by Nick Murphy. It was released on January 29th, 2013. It is rated R. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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