Writer/director Nick Murphy has a great period-based premise on his hands but doesn't quite know what to do with it. Although billed as a horror-thriller, The Awakening is a classy looking, dark yet incoherent drama, which promises more than it delivers.
The Town's Rebecca Hall is likeable, successful author Florence Cathcart, in what is a demanding role. She specialises in ghost hunting or, more correctly, disproving their existence in post-WWI England. Her fascination with ghosts and her desire to discover the truth stems from her grief for a lost love and her desire to know, once and for all, if it's possible to communicate with him. Her job is made all the more challenging by the Spanish flu, which killed millions of people worldwide, leaving millions more heartbroken. This was a time of ghosts and the false promise of communication with the dead was big business. However, what makes Cathcart different from her peers is that she is an educated woman of science and uses every means within her grasp to lay the truth bare.
Upon the insistence of West's Robert Mallory she visits a boarding school to investigate ghostly goings on and soon both she, and her beliefs, become undone.
Hall delivers a terrific performance as an independent, intelligent Sherlock Holmes-style investigator, complete with vulnerabilities. Given the time period and setting, upon first glance, there is more than a passing resemblance to Downton Abbey, but fans of the period-soap may not favour the thriller's darker plot. Yet The Awakening does not hold the same grip that The Others or The Orphanage had on audiences, despite the odd jumpy moments.
Fans of The Wire's West who are hoping to see him follow his Appropriate Adult performance with an equally complex role will be disappointed, but he delivers what he can with what's on offer and there are enough disturbed characters to keep one guessing. Staunton is one such character and, as always, it's nigh on impossible to tear your eyes away from her every move.
Semper Veritas, as the film promises - but the truth always comes at a price. However, the road to the big reveal is so convoluted that it packs more of a poke than a punch.