In 1921, London, a young woman enters a parlor with a photo of someone close to her that has recently passed on. She, along with several other grieving families, is attending a séance. When the séance starts the young woman quickly sees the deceit and reveals the medium and her cohorts to be charlatans.
The woman is Florence Cathcart and she has traveled the countryside exposing fakes and frauds of ‘spiritual’ businesses in the wake of WW I. She has even written a book about it. No sooner does she arrive home when she is called upon by Robert Mallory, representing The Rookwood Boarding School. Mr. Mallory’s beliefs are in opposition to Florence. However, he was sent to request her assistance, to calm frightened children after the death of a student rumored to be caused by a ghost. He offers several photos as proof of a haunting.
Florence accepts the job at the school and seems to have quickly squashed the rumors with her sleuthing. She soon learns that she may have bit off more than she can chew as paranormal activities escalate with no clear scientific explanation to debunk them. There are some creepy scenes but what really drives the film is the character of Florence and her transformation during the film. The exceptional sound-crafting as noises echo through the immense estate combined with a classical score create a substantial dark atmosphere.
This film is wholly British in style and execution, delivering a classic ghost story, in a slow burn, period piece. The acting is superb; both Rebecca Hall and Dominic West (Florence & Robert) offer top-shelf portrayals. This was not a full-tilt Paranormal Activity style haunt but much more low key. The film is aligned with a more discerning viewer, who likes some serious drama. I would say The Awakening is along the lines of The Others, The Woman in Black and The Sixth Sense. It is not for everyone but I enjoyed it.