While I don’t believe in ghosts, I do love a good ghost story. In particular, I like ghost stories that are mysteries at heart, and the spirits are pieces of the puzzle to be solved. Ghost in this sort of story may be scary, but usually don’t really wish harm upon the living, aside from seeing justice done. I was tempted to call these “old-fashioned” ghost stories, but what’s fashion for my culture isn’t fashion in another. While revenant stories seem new-fangled to me, the kaidan that are the basis of much of J-horror are old-fashioned in Japanese culture. J-horror sensibility has been prevalent in 2000s, so I was surprised to find a “good old-fashioned” ghost story from 2011.
The Awakening (2011) – Directed by Nick Murphy; Starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Isaac Hempstead Wright, and Imelda Staunton.
I came across this movie this movie while doing research on mediums and spiritualist debunkers. The main character, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), is a debunker. The first ten minutes of the film are on-line, a scene that includes Cathcart exposing a medium. It definitely endeared the film to me. A “professional” ghost hunter, she is asked to investigate the death of a boy at a country boarding school. He reportedly died of fear, sacred to death by the resident ghost. There is of course more than meets the eye to the boarding house and Cathcart’s motives for ghost busting. I was a little worried when she breaks out the 1920s version of EMF meters and the like, but those things aren’t what the movie is about.
The Awakening was written by director Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk, the writer behind the totally gonzo Gothic (1986), the more recent the UK series Afterlife (about a psychology professor investigating a medium), and half-dozen other ghost-related projects. Clearly, he has an interest in this type of story. The plot spools out a decent pace, providing a good number of chills and twists. The production is lovely, as you’d expect from BBC Films, and the actors are top-notch. I find that I really like Rebecca Hall in just about any role (which makes me all the more disappointed in Iron Man 3–Mayra Hansen was a character with not much to do). The Awakening is a solid ghost mystery and definitely a pleasant surprise.
Five more of my favorite ghost mysteries (that mostly fit the criteria):
- The Changling (1980)
- Lady in White (1988)
- The Sixth Sense (1999)
- Stir of Echos (1999)
- The Others (2001)