THE AWAKENING is a Suspenseful, Somber Supernatural Mystery

An electrifyingly complex performance by Rebecca Hall anchors an atmospheric and unsettling Wartime ghost hunt

With countless dead in World War I due to the conflict and a raging pandemic, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) recognizes that if there was ever a time where ghosts should exist, it’d be now. But her myriad adventures in debunking spiritualists, seances, and other purported means of contacting the afterlife have turned up little evidence to suggest this, leaving Florence bitterly jaded against any hope of contacting the ones she loved who have since passed on.

Her latest assignment, however, proves to be a ghostly guiding light towards potential proof. A rumored encounter with the supernatural has led to the death of a student at a British countryside boarding school, leading teacher Robert Mallory (Dominic West) and matron Maud (Imelda Staunton) to seek Cathcart’s aid. Regardless if the supernatural is indeed involved, Florence can bring closure to a school full of traumatized boys and their equally shellshocked war-vet teaching staff by uncovering the truth behind the boy’s death. But as the mysteries of the school reveal even more about her own foggy past, Florence confronts the ramifications of living in a world where ghosts may be far more real than she wishes them to be.

A deliciously macabre ghost story in the vein of The Innocents or The Devil’s Backbone by way of Sherlock Holmes, The Awakening has been seriously under-seen by the horror community since its low-key release back in 2011. Set at the peak of spiritualism in the wake of World War I, The Awakening pulls from fertile storytelling material to infuse its scares and shocks with a vibrant undercurrent of charged emotional and historical context. While many Horror films toy with investigations of the supernatural, rarely does the hunt for a spirit seem like a manifestation of both personal and national grief. With its boarding school of traumatized veterans without a clinical name for their PTSD conditions, students who more likely than not have lost fathers and brothers, and an investigation spearheaded by a widow still grieving her wartime loss, everyone in The Awakening is far more familiar with death than they should be.

Naturally, a belief in the supernatural feels as much a part of the grieving process as a burial or a wake–and Florence’s systematic debunking of each claim of ghostly activity feels like a conclusion she never wants to come to. It’s a welcome subversion of a well-worn trope by infusing it with so much heartbreak and trauma–and they’re emotional truths that Ghostwatch scribe Stephen Volk and director/co-writer Nick Murphy handle with the nuance and respect they deserve.

Because of this thriving emotional undercurrent, The Awakening’s moments of terror feel that much more terrifying. Running the gamut from well-timed jump scares and sequences of exquisitely prolonged dread (with nary a drop of blood spilled), there is a flair of variety to the Horror that draws audiences to Nick Murphy’s film–anchored by a well-utilized ensemble featuring familiar British faces like icon Rebecca Hall, Mike Leigh and Harry Potter mainstay Imelda Staunton, and TV’s Dominic West, Isaac Hampstead-Wright (in his early Game of Thrones Bran days!), and Joseph Mawle.

Kino Lorber and Cohen Media Group have re-released The Awakening in a brand-new Blu-ray release just in time for rediscovery for the Halloween season–accompanied by a large number of special features that dig deeper into the film’s rigorous production and historical context.


Kino Lorber and Cohen Media Group present The Awakening in a 1080p HD transfer in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, accompanied by an English 5.1-channel surround and 2.0-channel stereo DTS-HD Master Audio track. English SDH subtitles are included for the feature, but not the accompanying special features.

Past transfers of The Awakening have felt slightly out-of-time: while shot on 35mm according to the film’s behind-the-scenes footage, there’s a great deal of digital cleanup and intermediary work at play to create an image that feels too clean with any grain presence feeling artificial. The end result is a period piece visibly shot in the early 2010s, with a visual style that looks like a film production inexplicably pretending to be what it already is.

It’s a film that could have greatly benefited from a new scan of the original negative, especially to remedy the banding that occasionally occurs in scenes lit by gaslit lanterns or that take place on the foggy, atmospheric grounds of the boys’ school. Sadly, The Awakening’s transfer seems ported over from other releases like the accompanying special features. The feature is still watchable by any consideration, and director Nick Murphy and cinematographer Eduard Grau’s mottled gray-blue color palette lends The Awakening a fittingly spooky, macabre air. However, the rough amount of grain and artifacting in the film’s darker scenes rids some moments of the impact they deserve to have.

Also transferred from past releases are the film’s stellar audio tracks, which make wonderful use of surround channels to immerse viewers in all sorts of ghostly bumps and scrapes in the dark, a surprisingly triumphant and orchestral score by Daniel Pemberton, and the rich emotional timbre of Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy’s dialogue.

Special Features

For this Blu-ray, Kino Lorber and Cohen Media Group have ported over all of the supplemental features from Universal’s previous Blu-ray release, along with the film’s theatrical trailer.

  • Deleted Scenes: Over 28 minutes, director Nick Murphy introduces 7 deleted scenes with a lengthy explanation of how each scene fit into the narrative of the film, the rationale for including and filming the scene, and why they were ultimately removed from the final cut. Many of these sequences are from the film’s first act, though a few others provide further hints towards the closing twists and revelations.
  • Anatomy of a Scene–Florence and the Lake: Director Nick Murphy and the film’s actors break down the film’s midpoint, where the central mystery appears solved until Rebecca Hall’s Florence sees a ghost and attempts to take her own life. Key details include the complicated camera jib used to extend the camera across a lengthy pond jetty and the lengths taken to keep the actors from drowning during a drowning scene.
  • Extended Interview with Nick Murphy: This nearly 20-minute profile of The Awakening’s director features Murphy’s ruminations on how the film places within the body of his film and TV work, his relationship with his cast, creating consistent characters while hiding their secrets over the course of a supernatural mystery, the origin of the horrific ghost faces, and his personal scariest scene in the film.
  • Anatomy of a SCREAM: The Awakening’s cast and crew discuss their own beliefs in the supernatural, accompanied by interviews with paranormal experts.
  • A Time for Ghosts: An in-depth examination of the historical context at the heart of The Awakening, with the craving for spiritualism rooted in the traumatic loss of life in World War I, the inability to process grief with the lack of a body, and the repression of this trauma within the strict social mores of British society.
  • Behind the Scenes: A 36-minute documentary comprised of production B-roll, talking-head interviews with cast and crew, and completed film footage. Of note is the film’s forward-thinking production design, taking a deliberately anachronistic approach to Florence’s design, as well as the painstaking desaturation of the film’s color palette to create a sickly gray with sharp intentional appearances of red.
  • Trailer for The Awakening’s U.S. theatrical run.

The Awakening is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and Cohen Media Group.

Previous post Now Playing: Austin Film Society’s DOC DAYS