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Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Awakening (2011) + this and that

All this lying about waiting for my ankle to heel (another three weeks until the cast comes off) has left me strangely lethargic. I had planned to get back into my groove last week with my regular Wednesday posting, but you know what they say about good intentions. Had I written then it probably still would have been about the above movie, which was one of the few with any serious possibilities amongst the dross I've been watching. You can tell that I'm not up to scratch, as I've been averaging a mere two films a day, most of them making little impact.  Lackaday!

I had reasonably high hopes for this British flick starring Rebecca Hall, a fine actress but not one usually expected to carry a film. Set in 1921, she plays Florence Cathcart, a woman with a mission, out to debunk phony psychics and to expose so-called ghostly phenomena as the work of con men -- all the while nursing a broken heart for the sweetheart she lost in the War. She has published a popular book on the subject and has made quite a name for herself. When she is approached by Dominic West's schoolmaster to come to investigate a supposedly haunted boarding school in Cumbria, she pooh-poohs his concerns as probably the outcome of schoolboy pranks, despite the fact that a pupil has recently died, but off she goes with him anyhow. Just as well, or we wouldn't have the schizophrenic movie that we have.

What I mean by this is that this is definitely a film of two halves that really don't quite hang together. Initially she is welcomed at the school by its headmaster, matron (Imelda Staunton), and a gaggle of supposedly spooked young boys. But soon she is able to lay the blame for each bump in the night to one or other of the lads -- despite the brief frissons of fear that are meant to make us 'jump'. However, events take a somewhat different path during the half-term break when the only folk left at the school are Hall, West, Staunton, and young Tom (a very fine Isaac Hempstead-Wright) whose parents are in India. Suddenly there can be no logical or rational explanations for the noises and visions that Miss Cathcart begins to experience. Can Tom be the culprit? Not likely says West -- there are NO children at all at the school -- only the three of them!!!  This leads to the awakening of the title. It seems that she was lured there, not to explain any strange current hauntings, but to confront the repressed memories of her own past -- frankly a highly unlikely and somewhat contrived scenario. There follows a convoluted exploration of the previous relationships between her, Tom (who had died many years earlier), and the more-than-a-little involved Staunton, combined with a new sexual relationship with West and a would-be rape by a horny gamekeeper.

The film finishes with a big question mark as well and can be read in one of two ways -- a perfectly straightforward happy ending or yet another instance of ghostly spectres taking centre stage.. Take your pick.... The film is competently put together by director Nick Murphy with a high standard of acting and good production values, but in the end I did not find it a terribly satisfying viewing experience.

Mind you, it was a whole lot better than much of what I've seen this past month. For example I just finished watching a film called "Borderline" (1950) which was receiving its first television showing in 63 years. Starring Claire Trevor and Fred MacMurray, it was not the finest hour for either, since both could claim more prestigious productions in their respective filmographies. They play narcotic cops sent South of the Border to expose drug honchos; each is unaware that they are on the same side of the law and each suspects the worst of the other. She's gone to get the goods on literally 'heavy' Raymond Burr and thinking she is Burr's moll, Fred forces her to play his 'wife' as he pretends to take contraband back to the States. Trevor was a good 40 when the film was made and it is a little disconcerting for her to constantly be referred to as "the girl", to say nothing about her clunky chorus-girl dancing as one Gladys LaRue in the attempt to attract Burr's lecherous interest. Of course she and MacMurray fall in love despite thinking that each of them will end of shopping the other. Wow, what a yawn, but it goes to show that there are still plenty of films out there that I've neither seen nor heard of.  
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