I first encountered this film because–can’t make this stuff up–someone on tumblr posted a fancasting of Femlock (Sherlock Holmes as a woman) with Rebecca Hall as Sherlock and Carey Mulligan as Jane Watson. The image of Hall was from The Awakening (2011), and I was not disappointed.
The year is 1921. Florence Cathcart (Hall) is a skeptic “ghost hunter” and author who crashes spiritualist gatherings to expose the charlatans robbing grieving Londoners of their money. Robert Mallory (Dominic West), a teacher from a private boarding school, contacts her regarding a haunting at his school — not to find out who the ghostly little boy in the class photos is, but to investigate the recent death of a pupil who claimed to have seen the ghost shortly before his death.
Why should you watch this? Florence Cathhart is a badass science detective who doesn’t take shit from anyone. Her scientific equipment for monitoring ghosts–rather, humans pretending to be ghosts, or other natural conditions–is stellar. She defies most of the “strong female character” tropes: she doesn’t dislike, fear, or obsess about having children. Although she meets with some opposition from the law and from private citizens for being a lady detective, it doesn’t feel forced or cartoonish, and she deals with it swiftly. She’s allowed to express fear, desire, and uncertainty without it being pinned on her gender. Her motivation and complicated skepticism are also a nice change–when ghosts are suggested to be real, she scoffs, but no one is trying to disprove her because she’s a woman. Also: her “practical detective” fashion is on point.
As for the horror element, The Awakening is a genuinely scary film that utilizes the motion of the camera to focus on the characters’ faces and obscure the background or their field of vision, thus heightening the dramatic tension. As a fan of vintage scientific methods, sexually liberated lady detectives, and suspense, I was not disappointed.
Contains ghosts, suspense, suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, self harm, a near sexual assault, intimate-partner violence (not on main character), domestic violence involving children, non-sexual nudity, consensual sex, a whole lot of people with PTSD, that kid from GoT.
Regrettably, there no overtly queer characters and everyone is white.
Currently available on Netflix streaming, Amazon video, Vudu, Google play, etc.