From the opening moments of The Awakening it’s clear that this is a horror movie that shares little in common with the recent trend of slasher, torture-porn heavy films of recent years. The film boldly lays out its wares by flashing up fictional quotes denoting that “This is a time for ghosts.” The film is reminiscent of the work of authors Susan Hill or M.R. James in that is an old fashioned period ghost story, a refreshing thing these days. Nick Murphy makes the transition from directing TV (Primeval, Occupation) to the big screen with a very promising cast for his feature debut.

Set in 1921, just after the first World War, the film follows Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall; The Town, Everything Must Go) an author who has dedicated her life to disproving ghosts and exposing hoaxes after losing her lover in the afore mentioned conflict. She’s introduced as a hard nosed sceptic when she is first seen helping the police take down a group of fraudsters who are exploiting the bereaved at a staged seance. She is then approached by Robert (Dominic West; The Wire, 300) to come and investigate an apparent haunting at a boarding school in Cumbria. Despite her initial reticence, Florence is persuaded to take on the job by Robert's insistence that the boys at the school are virtually orphans, much like herself. Upon arrival at the school confirmed sceptic and Matron Maud (Imelda Staunton; Harry Potter series, Vera Drake) emphasizes the bizarre events by claiming even her belief has been challenged. From here the film follows the formula of increasingly more sinister events, a supposed explanation and then really ramping things up in the supernatural stakes.

Unlike recent ghost films like Paranormal Activity or Insidious, the characters are given real depth and rich histories that go some way to explaining their idiosyncrasies. The audience is slowly fed more insight into each character and their motivations throughout the film. Florence's anger and melancholy after exposing fraudulent ghosts suggests that in fact she wishes they were real in a twisted hope of having her dead fiancé back. Dominic West is as accomplished as ever; imbuing Robert, the former soldier suffering survivor's guilt, with pained nuances and a subtle stammer that show his struggle to integrate back into society.

However, though the characters may have a depth atypical of the genre, there are very clumsy moments of exposition and character development. At one point Maud tells Florence that she is “a shell of a woman” which felt somewhat insulting as this had just clearly been demonstrated in the preceding scene without being explicitly stated. We also have Florence sitting on the arms of chairs instead of sitting on them properly and wearing trousers to lazily show she doesn’t play by the rules. Despite this ancillary exposition and obvious physical cues the acting cannot be criticized. The one exception being a slightly theatre school turn by Isaac Hempstead Wright as Tom.

Thematically the film revolves around loss and how one copes with it.The whole tone of The Awakening is very bleak and intrinsically entwined with the period. The darkness of all the characters secrets is reflected in the pathetic fallacy of the constant grey skies. All the characters are trying to come to terms with what they lost in the war whether it be a loved one, brothers in arms, their health or dignity because of feigning disability to avoid enlisting. The theme of loss is played out well and in different ways by each character whether it be Robert’s self harming, Florence need to destroy her future or Maud’s obsession. The film conveys a sincere but not overly sentimental exploration of various aspects of coming to terms with tragedy.

In terms of the tension and scares the film has mixed success. Florence’s use of ghost finding equipment and traps was a nice way to build tension. The sudden ringing of bells or a trap inexplicably being set off was innovative and really helped ramp up the fear factor. There were a few moments of clichéd attempts to scare the audience which let the side down a little, the “person closing a door to reveal something scary that was obscured by the door” and “friendly person appearing from nowhere to make audience jump” that are far too commonly used in the horror genre come to mind. One scene in particular seems to have been taken directly from ‘The Woman in Black’ in which a ball bounces down the stairs on it’s own accord. However the film does have some genuinely spooky moments; the standout of which was the use of a very creepy dolls house replicating a tableaux of actual events in the house.

For the most part the film is very successful. The acting is up to scratch from such high calibre actors, supported by solid performances from those in the smaller roles. The cinematography captures the tone of the film excellently with large backgrounds of windswept moors complementing the feeling of isolation felt by the characters.

Unfortunately, the climax of the movie is strewn with one of the most baffling series of twists ever committed to celluloid, which goes a long way to negating all the good work that precedes it. A series of 5 major plot turns in the last 10 minutes leaves a sour taste in the mouth and spoils an otherwise competent gothic horror. Let’s hope ‘The Woman In Black’ fares better.