“The Awakening” is a paranormal horror/thriller starring Rebecca Hall as the skeptical hoax-buster Florence Cathcart. The setting is 1921 England, shortly after World War I. Florence has led a troubled life: she has blocked out much of her childhood, and (if I recall correctly) has lost her husband in the war.
The movie begins with her exposing the hoax of a spiritualist group. Shortly, thereafter a man by the name of Robert Mallory comes to her home to hire her to look into several ghost sightings at a boys’ boarding school. She reluctantly agrees and heads to the school. She begins her investigation with the various and sundry trappings of a disciplined scientist. She soon discovers, however, that the things that go bump in the night may just have more credence than she first believed.
The plot of the story is pretty straightforward at first: it’s basically a paranormal investigation being performed by a skeptic based on debunking the phenomena. The paranormal effects are carefully and precisely done, which is a pleasure. They did not go overboard. There were no bubbling cauldrons of blood or eviscerated phantasms … well, there was some gunshot wounds, but that was about it. I found that refreshing because the movie relied on plot and structure to build suspense. And that’s what it was: more suspenseful than horror. And I liked that.
Strengths: the carefully chosen special effects were masterful. As were the oddly disturbing use of seemingly ordinary objects: a doll with a rabbit’s head, a dollhouse filled with little homemade figures. Taken together, they gave the film a subtle, yet satisfying ambience. Weaknesses: I wouldn’t call this a weakness, but there was little blood and gore. Some people looking for strict horror might be unsatisfied. But actually, upon reflection, I would regard that as a strength. The biggest weakness, I thought, was the unneeded double twist at the end. I say double, because there were two twists and neither one was needed. I would have been perfectly happy if the story had stuck to the original storyline of the paranormal investigation vindicating the existence of ghosts. But they had to (spoiler alert) tie back the whole building and ghost to the main character, and then have the psycho nanny (or whoever she was) try to kill the main character. A well-crafted paranormal investigation would have suited me much better and could have been a better movie.
Overall, I’ll give the movie four out of five stars. It would have been four and a half out of five if they had just resolved the original story line without the double twist. But they didn’t.
I saw the kid’s movie “ParaNorman” the other day and found it enjoyable, although I have a few caveats. A few months back I came upon a blog written by a Christian woman complaining about the upcoming children movies that support necromancy, something viewed as very sinful by the typical Christian (actually, I think most modern Christians probably don’t think it is even possible, so being ‘sinful’ is moot). ParaNorman was one of the movies referenced in the blog (another was Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie). Anyway, if you want to take that route with ParaNorman it is open to that criticism–but, then, so are most fantasy movies/books (including my own Drasmyr). Personally, I think that’s going a bit too far; the movie was intended as a silly adventure with a supernatural theme; something fit for Halloween consumption. And as a writer of fantasy myself and a long-time AD&D player, I generally regard magic use as an interesting use of one’s imagination and generally harmless. Still, I can see how the movie could be construed as supportive of witchcraft, sorcery, and similar themes. And it is geared towards young children. So, you’ll have to make up your own mind there. Like I said, it didn’t bother me, but others might be offended.
The main character is a young boy with the unusual ability of being able to see and speak with the dead. He is well-known for having conversations with the many ghosts he finds around him. And he is widely regarded as an outcast and an oddity by the people in his town. Naturally, it falls upon him to save the town from the evil of a three-hundred-year-old witch’s curse. The trial and nature of the curse, and the identity of the witch are all part of the mystery of the story, so I won’t spoil it here. Let’s just say the witch is justly angry for her execution and it falls to Norman to resolve the matter. To assist him, he has a best friend (whose name I forget… was it “Neil?”), and a few other compatriots who, at least initially, are less well-intentioned toward him. The story is basically a typical transformation of outcast to hero that seems so popular these days. I thought the climactic confrontation at the end was a bit overdone and drawn-out, but other than that the story held together well.
I do have two more caveats regarding the film. Near the beginning, there is an obviously ill man (Norman’s uncle) who, at one point, takes a handful of pills and tosses them in his mouth. I’m sure they were intended to treat his illness(es), but the casual way in which it was done did raise my eyebrows. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but I wish they had taken a little more care in presenting the medicine. The last caveat: towards the end of the movie, one of the male minor characters reveals he’s gay by saying “You should meet my boyfriend.” It’s done casually, in an offhand, but blatant way. Homosexuality is something of a divisive issue, so I don’t think it really belongs in a children’s movie. Some people might be offended by it, others not. In the end, I think particularly devout religious people (of the Christian persuasion, probably Muslim as well… not sure of the others) have ample opportunity to be offended by this movie. Personally, I was not; I enjoyed it, though I thought the gay bit was a hair inappropriate.
Overall, I’ll give “ParaNorman” three and a half stars out of five.