The Scotsman film critic Alistair Harkness reviews the latest DVD releases
THE creepy, sophisticated thrills of The Orphanage, The Innocents and Shutter Island are the clear benchmarks for The Awakening, a period British supernatural chiller about a skeptical ghost hunter investigating a death at a boarding school. Unfortunately, creepy, sophisticated thrills are precisely what’s missing from this otherwise classily assembled film, which places emphasis on good performances and beautiful production design, but fails to generate the requisite tension or scares. Badly handled plot exposition is the chief culprit. Set against the backdrop of a country still haunted by the spectre of death after the First World War, the film struggles to unite this theme with the story of a troubled psychic investigator (Rebecca Hall), whose ability to debunk the supernatural is challenged by her arrival at a school in which the ghost of a boy causes her to question her beliefs and sanity. As custodians of the school, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton help maintain an air of ambiguity, but it doesn’t last; when the convoluted explanation comes, it’s too silly to justify the film’s morbid tone.
One might expect a morbid tone in a film about a young guy with cancer, but it’s precisely the absence of this that makes cancer-themed comedy 50/50 so engaging. Based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own experiences, it’s a wry, sly buddy comedy that mines its laughs from the dysfunction that erupts when twentysomething radio producer Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has to go through the trauma of treatment while his friends, family and a therapist try to make sense of it. It navigates potentially booby-trapped material with élan, something complemented by the ragged, relaxed style that director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) brings to bear on proceedings. But it’s the performances that really make it work. As Adam’s best friend, Kyle, Seth Rogen (who is Reiser’s best friend in real life) brings a loose comic energy to the film. Bouncing off an excellent Gordon-Levitt, they manage to achieve the correct balance between gross-out and heartfelt drama. An understated pseudo-romance between Adam and his therapist (Anna Kendrick) adds feel-good charm – as opposed to gooey quirkiness – and, as Adam’s overbearing mother, Anjelica Huston delivers real emotional heft with a delicate touch.
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