Jan 05 2012

Review: Final Destination 5

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 2:27 pm

Final-Destination-5
After the fourth entry to this horror franchise “The Final Destination”, it didn’t seem like there would be any more sequels to this highly successful horror-juggernaut. However, with Final Destination 5, we see that the fickle finger of death isn’t quite done with dispatching attractive young urbanites. Shot for 3D, FD5 makes the most of this, featuring more scenes of things flying towards the camera than anything previous seen in the series.

Once again the story involves a young man who experiences a premonition of him and his colleagues being killed in a freak accident. Acting on this vision, he narrowly saves a handful of people from plunging to their deaths. But as we know from the previous films as well as the ominous intonations of the county coroner (played by former Candyman and series regular Tony Todd) death doesn’t like being cheated. In order to restore survivors of the accident are in due course subjected to horrific demises, each more elaborate than the last.

The cast of characters seem almost intentionally shallow, complete with horror movie standards like the ambitious young buck, the nerdy creep, the officious boss and the vapid babe. Established as employees of a paper company, (who later seen working incongruously as chefs and gymnasts) they are largely tasked with staring at appalling accidents and uttering classic lines like “how did this happen?” and “this can’t be an accident!” However, the real stars of the movie are the gory set pieces.

Director Steven Quale -whose previous credits include second unit on a few of James Cameron’s films- shoots the death scenes with an acute awareness that the audience has seen this happen in the four earlier Final Destination movies. The set-ups involving a deadly gymnastic routine, a Lasik operation gone wrong and a particularly uncomfortable acupuncture session, are peppered with enough misdirection to keep punters on their toes. My only complaint would perhaps be that there are too many bits where characters are in danger of slipping on things left on the floor: perhaps the script was developed by a team of mothers tired of their kids leaving stuff lying around. Regardless, there is a strong vein of very black humour running throughout that distinguishes FD5 from recent torture-porn flicks like Hostel 2, whose only purpose appears to be grossing out teenagers.

This review is based on the 2D version, so no real comment can be made on the effectiveness of the 3D. However, schlocky horror movies seem to be the spiritual home of the third dimension, providing the eye-poking visuals that will both delight fans and provide some small distraction from the constant sound of snapping spines.

Final Destination 5 is pretty much a remake of its predecessors, but there’s something about the premise and the endless possibilities for killing people in implausible ways that has allowed the series to thrive. It’s not particularly original, but it’s still a lot of fun.

 

Rating: 3 1/2 impaled skulls out of 5


Dec 15 2011

Review: Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 3:59 pm

Sherlock-2
Sequels are a tricky beast. People liked your first film and flocked to the cinema in droves to watch it. The studio want to equal the success (read: box-office) of the original while expanding the world of the film enough to sustain a franchise in the way that the James Bond films have. The pitfalls in their way usually entail trying to cram too much into a single film. Batman Forever is a good example of this where the movie featured no less than the origin story of three villains, multiple sub-villains as well as a romantic plot-line.  Another problem sequels commonly have is to rehash what worked in the original. Case and point would be the Austin Powers movies: endless re-workings of jokes from the first movie turned what were original gags into tired old tropes inducing more groans than chuckles. So it came as no small relief that Guy Ritchie’s follow-up to his 2009 Sherlock Holmes is an unconventionally solid sequel.

Game of Shadows finds Baker Street’s greatest mind working to uncover the nefarious plan of one Professor Moriarty (played by Mad Men’s Jared Harris). Established as a world class brain-box (as well as Oxford boxing champ, by the way), they prove to be a challenge for each other. The few scenes Harris and Robert Downey Jr. have together spark wonderfully as they engage and Holmes tries to get to the bottom or Moriarty’s scheme. When they plan does reveal itself, it’s completely ludicrous and needlessly complicated, although it’s good to see the villain driven by greed instead of by a desire be villainous.

Ritchie’s visual tricks are back in force, dispensing with Michael Bay’s style of quick-cutting action sequences in favour of slow-motion set pieces – a sweet relief from the blockbuster-induced seizures that I’m prone to. Holmes and Watson fight a Cossack assassin in a Victorian gin palace and escape a German munitions base: the set-pieces are bigger and louder than in the first Sherlock without losing sight of the humour that made it a success. Although their character arcs are pretty much the same this time –Holmes is dismayed at being abandoned by Watson, whose imminent nuptials are putting the brakes on their relationship—Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law seem more comfortable in their partnership and their rapport is easier than ever.

Rounding out the cast this time round is Stephen Fry as Mycroft, Holmes’ smarter older brother, in a role that seems tailor-made for him: haughty, sharp and slightly camp, he delights every minute he’s on screen. Noomi Rapace (formerly of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series) is also along for the adventure as a feisty Gypsy whose brother is somehow entangled in Moriarty’s grand design. She isn’t cast as a romantic interest, which is another sweet relief: as mentioned before, superfluous love stories are a great way to bog down your story.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is by no means a masterpiece –as before, Downey’s take on Sherlock is fun but lightweight– but as a piece of light entertainment for December movie-goers it’s a slick romp that hits the spot.


Dec 09 2011

Review: Hugo

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 5:58 pm

Hugo
The story of Martin Scorsese’s childhood has long been established in movie lore: from a young age, he had suffered from asthma and had spent his formative years stuck indoors in the cinemas of New York City. In those darkened movie theatres, he discovered his love for films, retreating into the fantasy worlds created by directors like his later-life mentor Michael Powell. Although it is a dramatic departure from the crime pictures for which he’s best known, Scorsese’s latest film Hugo may be his most personal work in ages.

Set in a Parisian railway station in the early 1930s, the film tells the story of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a young orphan boy who secretly maintains the clocks at the station. He spends his days stealing food, evading security and scavenging parts to repair a discarded clockwork automaton left to him by his father. He befriends Chloë Grace Moretz’s Isabelle, the adopted daughter of Ben Kingsley’s Georges Méliès, a reclusive silent film director now reduced to selling toys at the Station.  Despite Papa Georges’ bitter protests Hugo and Isabelle begin to unlock the secrets of the automaton.

The character of Georges Méliès is a real historical figure. An accomplished magician, he directed hundreds of silent films and in the process pioneered special effects through techniques such as multiple exposures and false perspective. His most famous surviving work is A Trip to the Moon, whose iconic image of a rocket shot into the eye of the moon has been parodied extensively (the Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight video is a direct homage). By the time the Great War was over, Méliès was bankrupt and as depicted in the film, turned to selling toys at the Montparnasse station.

Scorsese’s film, based on a book by Brian Selznick, is as much about the romanticism of early cinema as it is about a young boy finding his purpose. The clockwork interiors of the station and the whirring machinery of the city mirror the workings of a motion picture camera and we see the power that films have to amaze and transfix its audience.  The historical detail will mean nothing to children, but Hugo is a heartfelt and thrilling adventure first and foremost. Scorsese’s camera is as kinetic as ever, swooping through crowds and tumbling around back passages of Paris.

From one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of the medium comes this swooning love letter to the wonderful fantasies made by those shadows projected in the dark.


Dec 08 2011

Review: The Thing

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 4:01 pm

The-Thing
Horror remakes aren’t always a bad thing. David Cronenberg’s 1986 version of The Fly took a campy Vincent Price flick from the 50s and turned it into a shocking body-horror movie that fit in perfectly with the director’s own sensibilities. In 1982, Halloween director John Carpenter updated 1951′s The Thing from Another World into a very prescient character-driven thriller that capitalised on the cold war paranoia of the time. Therefore, there’s no real reason think that 2011’s The Thing would be bad. Or is there?

Horror movies have always been popular with the big film studios: they don’t normally rely on casting big-name actors so the cost of producing them is relatively low. The budget combined with the tendency for scary movies to perform well at the box office usually means there’s a greater chance of the studios turning a profit. In order to cut the risk even further, movie execs also prefer to remake stories that have a certain ‘brand-recognition’ and proven track record.

Just off the top of my head: in the last ten years we’ve seen remakes to The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Last House on the Left, Halloween…

I really could go on…

In fact, I will!

There’s also been House of Wax, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Piranha, The Amityville Horror, The Omen, Straw Dogs, Wolfman, My Bloody Valentine and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This isn’t even counting the sequels to those remakes! So, faced with the prospect of this year’s The Thing, I wasn’t expecting anything new.

Dutch commercial director Matthijs van Heijningen and his writer Eric Heisserer have taken an interesting angle with this movie: in some way, it’s a sequel but in other ways, it’s very much a remake. In Carpenter’s cult classic, the opening scene shows two Norwegians in a helicopter chasing a dog through the Antarctic wasteland, shooting at it with a rifle. This dog, we soon learn, is not quite what it seems: it ends up at an American research station where a creature starts replacing its inhabitants, slowly picking them off. 2011’s version is the story of where the Norwegians came from.

Set in the early 80s (to match the time period), we see an incredibly similar set-up to the film.  The cast of characters feature a number of smarmy scientific researchers and blue-collar workers as well as a rough-and-tumble helicopter pilot (Joel Edgerton)who’s so similar to Kurt Russell’s character in the ’82 Thing that you wonder whether they are in fact the same guy, working in two different stations, who miraculously forgot the traumatic incidents that occurred only days before and also (somehow) managed to come back from the dead between the two films. Sorry: spoiler alert.

The two stories unfold beat-for-beat in exactly the same way that you simply cannot think of it as a prequel at all but maybe something akin to a cover version of a much-loved classic. After a while, I stopped worrying about the stark similarities and really started to enjoy it. The 2011 Thing is a well constructed and effective horror — the makers have taken what worked in the ‘original’ and managed to re-use them to great effect. It reminded me of how much I loved the original without necessarily making me wish I was watching it at the time.

The social and cultural relevance no longer looms over the film –we’re no longer as obsessed with having spies in our midst as we were in the 80s– so the sequences where they start a witch hunt might not resonate in the way they once might have. The digital effects are handled very well with the exception of a totally unnecessary giant spaceship set (imagine a studio executive rolling a cigar between his fingers: “Make it bigger okay? More explosions!”) and the monster designs are often inventive riffs on the originals.

So, in summation:

Is this ‘remakequel’ of The Thing entirely necessary? Probably not.

Is it scary? Sure. 

Will people who haven’t seen Carpenter’s The Thing enjoy it? Absolutely.

Do I want to see studios remake more horror classics? I really don’t think we have a choice in this matter.


Nov 29 2011

Review: Horrible Bosses

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 12:10 pm

Bridesmaids
In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 classic thriller Strangers on a Train, a tennis star Farley Granger meets Robert Walker in a train compartment. Walker recognises the sportsman from the gossip rags and is aware of Granger’s marital problems. He proposes that if Granger were to kill Walker’s father and Walker were to take care of Granger’s wife, they’d both get what they want and neither of them would get caught because the killers would have no obvious motive.

Horrible Bosses uses this conceit of criss-crossed murders as a jumping off point. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day are three long-time friends who completely hate their bosses: Kevin Spacey’s manipulative and sadistic corporate shark; Colin Farrell’s balding, coked-up kung-fu enthusiast; and Jennifer Aniston’s sex-pest dentist. With the help of an ex-convict named Motherf***er Jones (Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx), they concoct a plan lifted from Strangers on a Train: they‘ll kill each other’s bosses. It’s a plan that could theoretically work were it not for the fact that all three friends are total idiots.

In setting up the plot, the screenwriters seem to be bending over backwards in order to create a situation where normal guys are willing to commit murder. Technically there’s nothing stopping any of them from quitting their jobs –apart from the inconvenience of finding a new one—plus Sudeikis and Bateman seem to have no qualms about killing a woman for the heinous crime of being sexually aggressive.

After a short period during which they scope out their targets’ houses, director Seth Gordon and his writers make it clear that none of them are actually going to do the deed. They completely defuse any stakes they’ve created by making it patently obvious that the guys are either too cowardly or stupid to commit murder: Sudeikis seems mostly preoccupied with getting laid while Day looks like he’s having a grand ol’ time hanging out with the guys.

Okay, we’re being a little harsh on Horrible Bosses because the writing is unnaturally lazy for a movie with this kind of talent behind it, but there is a certain charm that comes from its all-star cast. Spacey, Aniston and Farrell are all good in their slightly underwritten roles while Bateman and Sudeikis play well-honed straight-men. The real revelation of the movie however, is Charlie Day. Known to TV fans from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Day has taken the highly strung yet naive persona from that show and made it work for him on the big screen. In the same way that The Hangover made a star out of Zach Galifianakis, I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot more of Day in the near future.

Though the premise is weak and the characters are thinly written, the genial performances elevate Horrible Bosses into an entirely watchable affair.


Nov 24 2011

Review: Take Shelter

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 4:44 pm

Take-Shelter
Curtis LaForche is a working-class husband and father in rural Ohio whose recurring dreams have caused him to panic. He wakes up in a sweat after experiencing visions of a coming storm that rains thick liquid like motor oil, turning both animals and humans into savages.  The question for Curtis is whether these vivid delusions are indeed premonitions or perhaps the first signs of an hereditary mental illness that he has been expecting for years. As the visions escalate, second-time director Jeff Nichols shoots them like the early scenes from a horror film: the pervasive sound of distant thunder signalling something terrible. It may (or may not) be a world-ending deluge, but it’s going to be something big.

Playing Curtis is Michael Shannon, an actor whose demeanour is never anything short of intense. Scratch that — with his pock-marked face and dark, probing eyes, he probably emerged from the womb at intensity-level 10. Best known as the (intense) prohibition agent in Boardwalk Empire, Shannon creates a nuanced performance that balances paranoia, fear and insanity with a level of sympathy that suggests that an Oscar-nomination wouldn’t be out of the question.

At its core, Take Shelter is about what a man does to protect his family. Curtis looks like he has it all: a wife, a daughter and a house. His best friend and colleague, Dewart (Shannon’s Boardwalk Empire cohort Shea Whigham) tells him he has the perfect life, but to Curtis that also means he has the most to lose. As he begins to load his tornado shelter with enough supplies to outlast the apocalypse, he conceals his visions from his wife (Jessica Chastain). In order to expand the shelter to accommodate his daughter, he ‘borrows’ equipment from work, putting his job at risk. His deaf daughter is scheduled for an operation to restore her hearing but it’s entirely dependent on his insurance, which relies on him keeping his job, which requires him not to be insane. And there’s the rub.

The term ‘psycho-thriller’ would be both an apt and misleading label for Take Shelterafter all, Curtis’ possible psychoses pose the biggest threat to his family. How will they eventually manifest themselves? In trying to save his family, will Curtis end up being the one who endangers them?

Shannon’s performance is an absolutely fascinating look at a man aware of his own decline. In a scene where he seeks help from a counsellor, Curtis presents her with the results of a self-administered paranoid schizophrenia test that he found in the back of a medical textbook. He is conscious that he may be becoming ill (as his mother did many years before) but still compelled to act on his dreams. Before he begins his project to expand the storm shelter, he draws up a line budget in order to determine whether he can afford a project that logically, he knows is insane.

Take Shelter is very much a product of our time: with the economy in its current condition, many families in America are dependent on a single parent’s income. A lost job will very often mean no health insurance for the family and a defaulted mortgage. Households are on the knife edge between living comfortably and being completely screwed. Perhaps Curtis’ fears are the same as many other parents: do they have enough to tide their families through the mother of all rainy days? When the storm comes, will they have the choice to take shelter?


Nov 18 2011

Review: Bridesmaids

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 4:48 pm

Bridesmaids
Very few people could have predicted how big a hit Bridesmaids would turn out to be. A true word-of-mouth sensation, this female-led comedy (first of its kind from the Apatow stable) stayed in the box-office top ten for almost 10 weeks, shattering all expectations. Then, of course: critics, journalists and moviegoers started asking: If Bridesmaids could make it big, why aren’t there more comedies for women?

The sad answer is that there are plenty of comedies ‘made for women’ but most of them are tragically awful from conception to execution. The average studio comedy would suggest that most women’s primary goals in life were to get married, shop and be taken seriously in man’s world (and to be fair, the third point can take a hike if there’s a sale on at the bridal department at Macy’s). Okay, so Bridesmaids does end in a wedding and there is a gross-out sequence in a shop but that’s where the similarities end.

Co-writer Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live, Paul) is a single woman in her 30s who’s coming close to hitting rock bottom: her dreams of running a cake shop have evaporated as has her long-term boyfriend. She is engaged in a destructive relationship with handsome cad Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and to make it worse, her best friend Maya Rudolph is getting married. Wiig is drafted in as maid of honour alongside a motley crew of bridesmaids including Melissa McCarthy’s boorish tomboy and Rose Byrne’s snooty trophy wife. With Rudolph marrying a richer man, Wiig quickly realises that she’s  being priced out of her best friend’s life.

Sometimes the humour feels like it comes from the Ricky Gervais School of Embarrassment Comedy:  during an engagement party, Wiig and Byrne engage in a game of one-upmanship that stretches longer and longer in an almost excruciating way . The movie isn’t afraid of going scatological either: in another sequence, the bridal party attend a dress fitting immediately after dining at a Brazilian meat buffet of questionable hygiene with consequences that may be too much for some viewers

Marketed as The Hangover with women, it has a lot more in common with producer Judd Apatow’s movies. The comedy set-pieces are essentially sketches but they’re kept together by Wiig’s evolving and honestly played relationships with Rudolph and romantic interest Chris O’Dowd (in his first American  lead, playing –somehow- an Irish highway cop in Milwaukee). Embracing Apatow’s now-almost-clichéd mix of raunchy humour and poignancy, Bridesmaids manages to keep the characters grounded enough for the audience to care about what happens to them.

So: is Bridesmaids really only for women?

Quite simply: no. Sure,  it’s written by women and features mostly female characters but it’s not like Twelve Angry Men is considered to be a movie  for the lads. The more innovative gags deal with ideas unique to women and their relationships to each other but in comedy: specific is funnier than generic. The writing and performances possess the kind of detail that makes a movie re-watchable. Don’t be surprised if -like Dirty Dancing or Pretty Woman- Bridesmaids becomes a perennial favourite for girls’ nights in everywhere .

Bridesmaids is the funniest and freshest studio comedy this year and one that the boys will enjoy as much as the ladies, I suspect. Perhaps in a few years when The Hangover 3 is inevitably released, they’ll be calling it “Bridesmaids for guys”. Now that would be something.


Nov 16 2011

The Killing (Forbrydelsen)

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 11:00 am

Killing
What is The Killing and what is all the fuss about?

Since it originally aired in 2007, the Danish crime series The Killing (Forbrydelsen) has become an international hit (scoring phenomenal ratings on the traditionally unwatched BBC4, largely from word-of-mouth), inspired a US television remake and spiked the popularity of those dowdy Faroese cardigans (see below) worn by its protagonist, Detective Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl). But in an age where absolutely every single show on television is a police procedural, what about The Killing makes it stand out from the pack?

The first series follows the investigation into the murder of Nanna Birk Larsen, a teenage schoolgirl from Copenhagen. With each episode representing another day in their investigation, DI Lund and her unorthodox partner DI Jan Meyer (Søren Malling) find themselves wrapped in a  plot that involves city hall, shady communities and grieving families. By only dealing with one case over the course of the season, The Killing is able to set itself apart from your case-of-the-week  shows like Miss Marple or The Mentalist: it can dig deeper into its characters and cater to hardcore DVD box-set fans in a way that only a serialised drama can. Instead of being like CSI or Inspector Morse, the twisty plot that winds its way around the first season makes it feel like a slow-burn version of 24 or perhaps a darker, less goofy take on Twin Peaks. Also, it’s rare in a cop show to gain an authentic sense of grief from the family of victims: over its 20 episodes, we see Nanna’s parents go through the heart-breaking process of coping with her death and watch as Lund deals with her own existential crisis.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that we’ve seen a recent explosion in Scandinavian mysteries with Wallander and the Stieg Larsson novels. There certainly is a melancholy that infuses the setting; a land far north that feels perpetually near dusk that fits well into the noir mould. The photography in The Killing is shot in such a way that it feels like it’s always about to rain, or already has: the muted grey tones make you wonder why Lund doesn’t just pack it in and leave the country already. But then again, she’s not like any other TV cop: Lund doesn’t have any discernible ‘gimmick’ like most modern TV cops. She doesn’t have the ability to talk to ghosts or use Holmesian deduction to arrive at epiphanies after having seen only a single nail-clipping. The writers seem more interested in how she reacts to new discoveries instead of how she arrives at them and it pays off—watching her balance her home life and work life is as interesting as seeing the political intrigue unfold (which, to be honest, was a bit grinding at times).


Nov 10 2011

Review: Tactical Force

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 12:02 pm

tactical
In densely populated regions of the United States, SWAT teams are elite tactical units employed by the police to perform counter-terrorism or hostage retrieval missions. The term itself stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. In the opening scene of Tactical Force -a new film starring former WWE wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin- the SWAT team, led by Austin, are called into a supermarket hostage situation. On this mission, their ‘tactics’ involve running straight at armed suspects, pushing them into stack of cans and the ‘special weapons’ in question are Austin’s fists.  One of his partners uses a BB-gun to take out a baddie and remarkably, no-one is killed.

What happens next comes straight out of every cop film: the chief chews out Austin’s unit for needlessly endangering civilians and the SWAT team laughs this off in a way that suggests that they probably shouldn’t be policemen. Instead of being fired and jailed, their punishment is to go on a training mission in an abandoned warehouse. Unbeknownst to them, this warehouse is where an eclectic group of gangsters have planned an exchange. That’s right: the gangs have chosen to do their business in an ACTIVE police training facility. Trapped in the building without live ammunition, Austin’s group of maverick cops engage in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the mobsters.

Obviously shot on a budget -a good chunk of the film takes place in an empty warehouse- Tactical Force also manages to be a lot of fun: the bad guys are ridiculously accented (and prone to making some truly awful decisions) and the salty one-liners don’t feel out of place at all. The fight scenes owe more to the recent explosion of mixed martial arts than it does to professional wrestling and the stars/stuntmen are more than capable of delivering the body blows.

Despite having appeared in a few films including last year’s The Expendables, Stone Cold hasn’t become the household name that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is, but his beer-swilling good ol’ boy persona translates quite well to film. It’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing him in any romantic comedies anytime soon, but he could easily find himself fitting into more movies like this.

Don’t get me wrong: Tactical Force is an utterly ridiculous film – but it knows it is and plays to that strength. It’s a perfect one to rent on a Friday night when you and your mates just want to drink beer and shout at the telly. Now give me a hell yeah!*

 

 

*This was one of his wrestling catchphrases. Sadly, it will mean nothing to most of you.


Nov 10 2011

Review: The Awakening

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 11:59 am

Awakening
A lot of ghost stories start the same way: a rational person of logic or science is placed in a situation where their scepticism in the paranormal is put to test. From there, the plot can go in one of two directions: 1) our hero discovers that ghosts actually exist and he promptly soils himself; or 2) the ghost turns out to be the butler or the janitor in a costume. The trouble with the first case is that we feel cheated by the lack of a payoff when the thing that everyone says is true turns out to be true. The issue with the second outcome is that it ends up being the plot of a Scooby-Doo episode. The Sixth Sense (a modern classic by any standard) works around these problems by there being no doubt that spirits exist.  But director Nick Murphy’s The Awakening does hinge on that one question: are there such things as ghosts?

Set in England after the First World War, Rebecca Hall plays Florence Cathcart, a popular author renowned for debunking the paranormal and exposing mediums. Her various methods of revealing the truth behind ‘ghosts’ involve setting up traps with tracing powders, directional thermometers and multiple cameras (ingenious bits of old technology that suggests the possibility of an Edwardian prequel to Paranormal Activity). Hall is approached by The Wire’s Dominic West, a brooding teacher from a boarding school asking for her help catching a ghost thought to be responsible for a young boy’s death. Though reluctant at first, she agrees, setting in motion a plot that finds her questioning her very beliefs.

Hall finds herself surrounded by a cast of suspicious characters, each with their own secrets: school matron Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) seems very much taken with Hall and her books while a draft-dodging groundskeeper roams the estate with a loaded shotgun, ensuring that the film is stocked-up with a healthy supply of red herrings. Long confined to playing supporting roles and love interests, Rebecca Hall makes for a compelling and smart leading actor who can also look petrified and run for her life as well as anyone. In believably portraying an independent professional woman in 1920s Britain, she manages to bring a certain authenticity to a story that otherwise didn’t need it.

Of course, the film does have its issues. The story falls apart in the third act with a few twists that come almost out of nowhere.  In the wake of similar works like The Orphanage and The Others, you can sense that the writers felt pressure to deliver an ending that transforms everything that came before it. Certain characters make some frankly baffling decisions and there are enough endings to rival the last Lord of the Rings movie.

It almost chugs to a halt at the end but The Awakening is still an atmospheric, slow-boiling horror film with some genuinely tense moments and well-earned scares. You’ll be looking around the edges of every frame to try catch a glimpse of the ghost that lurk in the shadows. Or maybe it’s just the butler.