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Originally published Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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'The Awakening' offers pleasures of an old-fashioned thriller

"The Awakening," directed by Nick Murphy and starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton and Isaac Hempstead-Wright, offers the low-key pleasures of an old-fashioned thriller and a lovely central performance by Hall, writes Moira Macdonald in this review. The film is playing at Seattle's Meridian.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'The Awakening,' with Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead-Wright. Directed by Nick Murphy, from a screenplay by Stephen Volk and Murphy. 102 minutes. Rated R for some violence and sexuality/nudity. Meridian.

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Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), a young woman in post-World War I London, is haunted, not by ghosts, in which she resolutely doesn't believe, but by memories of people she's lost.

Slender as a candle wick and pale as moonlight, she practices a profession at odds with her fragile appearance: Florence is a professional ghost debunker who uses scientific data to explain ghostly phenomenon with crisp certainty. In the early scenes of Nick Murphy's period thriller "The Awakening," she's weary and ready to take a break from her work — but is then asked by a troubled schoolmaster (Dominic West) to come to a boys' academy in the countryside, to investigate the ghostly appearance of a child.

Things unfold from there in pleasantly creepy and beautifully art-directed fashion: large, creaky school where things go bump in the night (and day); strange faculty members hostile to Florence's work; a kindly matron (Imelda Staunton) with secrets of her own. The film looks delicately faded, like an old photograph; the school, a sprawling stone structure in the middle of nowhere, looks like a place, in the matron's words, where people understand loneliness.

Though the story spirals a little out of control in the film's final scenes, "The Awakening" offers the low-key pleasures of an old-fashioned thriller and a lovely central performance. The talented Hall, who brings a breezy matter-of-factness to Florence in her early scenes, lets us see the character becoming blurred as she slowly loses her grip on certainty — moving from black-and-white to shades of gray, walking through a door that she's afraid to open.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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