The Awakening (2011) UK
Clear back on November 14, 2012 (boy I've got to get that index up and running) I reviewed a surprisingly good and lavish movie Saint Ange, aka House Of Voices, a French/Romanian movie made in 2004 that proves you don't have to beat people over the head with blood and guts and special effects to bring a chill down the spine in a truly spooky movie. And I got that same pleasant surprise with this paranormal mystery period piece.
Set in WWI England, a woman named Florence Cathcart, who is a 'woman of education' spends her time exposing hoaxes of those trafficking in the supernatural. It is kind of amusing (although back then I'll bet it was infuriating) to hear them keep referring to her as a 'learned woman' and suggest that her problems may stem from that fact - like emotions and knowledge don't mesh or something. Charming.
After exposing a charlatan of a 'medium' she is not exactly met with gratitude - the participants yell at her as they're being arrested, the woman being duped slaps her because she took away her belief that she could see her dead daughter again. And Florence isn't happy either. For one thing, it all exhausts her (we are delicate things after all - pffft). And apparently each time she disproves the presence of spirits she is saddened - the war took away her love and although she is proved right she also knows that means she will never see him again.
A man comes to her to ask for her help. A ghost has been rumored to bother a boarding school out in the country. That's been known for a long time but now another boy has died and all the students are in fear of their lives now. He shows her a series of student class photos. These are long strip types, where the camera pans across the whole group to get the photo. A ghostly image of a boy can be seen, in each year the photos are taken. She explains the prank some pull, of which he already knew, that a boy on one end can run to the other end since it takes a good ten to fifteen minutes for the camera to go across and since he's still moving when the camera catches him, he's blurred, thus the 'ghost' effect. That's all well and good, but the last picture shows the 'ghost' in an upper window. Huh.
So she makes the trip, confident that she'll quickly find the culprit or culprits and solve the mystery. The school used to be a private residence which is insane because it is just massive. Just like every paranormal movie we then have the setting up of equipment, almost interesting in this one because all of it is from the beginning of the 20th century. The atmosphere is both beautiful and eerie. Quickly she discovers that the boy who just died most likely had an asthma attack from being scared of the dark and being shut outside by a teacher. Case solved. Almost.
All the boys except one named Tom whose parents are in India leave for break and she is prepared to leave. She keeps hearing strange sounds she can't explain away, plus the tales of the 'blurred face' boy keeps coming back to, excuse the pun, haunt her. And she's having feelings about the place she can't explain either.
The story moves along at a steady pace, not hurrying about anything and she begins to see more and more she cannot explain. After falling for a teacher named Robert who suffers from what would be today PTSD but then is considered guilt for surviving the war when his friends died, she begins to understand that she actually is seeing what could be considered the history of this once private house.
The housekeeper even mentions that since she arrived she has called it a 'house' and not a 'school'. The revelation comes to her when she's attacked by the groundskeeper and tells Robert she needs to go talk to the housekeeper and the last remaining boy, Tom. He's puzzled - there are NO children staying during break. The memories well up and now she understands...
The house is her family's. She had made up in her mind a whole childhood, to protect her mind against what really happened to her when she was small. Tom is a ghost and is Florence's half brother and Maud the housekeeper's son. Florence and Tom grew up in the house that is now a boarding school. While Florence and Tom were young, their father became mad and killed Florence's mother, Tom and himself while also trying to kill Florence.
Maud, who also sees Tom, explains that Tom is lonely and that he needs his family; Maud poisons herself and Florence, intending for their ghosts to join Tom. Florence, however, tells Tom that she will not be happy if she dies now and that she will always be with Tom. Tom then helps Florence by bringing her medicine to throw up the poison.
Does she live or die? It was a little confusing because the headmaster, when he came back, completely ignores her and only one of the boys, a very lonely boy (only the lonely boy who died could see Tom) talks to her. But then she tells Robert she'll be back to visit him and says that although she can't see Maud or Tom anymore, she'll never forget them. But instead of accepting a ride down she says she wants to walk to her car. Okay, I was confused but it was still a good ending to a well made movie and a nice change from the slap-you-in-the-face paranormal movies.