The Awakening

An(other) Open Letter to Southend Odeon

ron woodroof

Dear Southend Odeon,

I’d like to open by saying that I am a fan. I love film, and I love cinema as a medium for experiencing it. Most often I pass through your doors at least once a week. But sadly, I don’t expect to be gracing your establishment this week.

Why? Three words:

Dallas Buyers Club.

Read on…

“Whitstable” by Stephen Volk – A Review

whitstable by stephen volk(Spectral Press, 140pp, pb £12.50/eb £2.04)

To the very best of my knowledge, I have never read a short story, novella or novel by Stephen Volk. I do, however, know of him  from his columns in bimonthly horror magazine Black Static, as well as his work as screenwriter for the BBC’s seminal Ghostwatch, paranormal TV series Afterlife, and more recently the horror film The Awakening.

So Whitstable is my first encounter with Volk’s prosaic fiction, a hugely ambitious novella from Spectral Press, a small independent publisher which has lately been making big waves with its dedication to publishing high-quality short fiction.

Released to mark the 100th would-have-been birthday of that titanic figure of cinematic horror Peter Cushing, the novella centres around Cushing as the main character, and is a combination of chillingly grounded horror and a sincere homage to the man himself.

Read on…

The Awakening – A Review

The Awakening (2011)

I love a good ghost story. There’s something about it that speaks to the primeval, the child in me hiding beneath the covers, shaking with fear and excitement. They don’t have a terribly good press- they are, often not unfairly, labelled cheesy, cliche and overdone- but when they’re done right there are few things better.

And The Awakening is one of the best ghost films I’ve seen in a long, long while. It certainly blows Hammer’s disappointing The Woman in Black straight out of the water- though some might think the lack of Daniel Radcliffe on the cast list gives it an unfair advantage.

But first thing’s first: my declaration of interests. I know Mr Stephen Volk, the writer (well, over Facebook and the like, at least). I’m a fan of his previous work (Afterlife and the excellent Ghostwatch), and of his columns in horror fiction mag Black Static. I’ve also been wanting to see this film since its cinema release, but due to the ineptitude of Odeon Cinemas had to wait until the DVD release.

Now that’s done, onto the review. The Awakening follows ghost-hunter and -debunker Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), who comes to Rookwood boarding school on the request of teacher Robert Mallory (Dominic West, of The Wire fame, looking like he was carved right out of a block of manliness). There she sets about debunking the “ghost” that has been blamed for the death of a student, just in time for the kiddies to go home for the holidays. Which is when the real creepy goings on start.

The “debunking” story is a fairly uncommon, but nonetheless established, model of horror story- and one I have a lot of time for. It invariably comes down to a character analysis of the debunker. In this case, Florence’s motivations and history take centre stage of the entire film, but they do so almost subtly- so you don’t even notice until it’s already happening.

I won’t give the plot ending away (because it is rather special), but as befits the story type you know it will go either one way or the other. Either the occurrences will be supernatural, or they won’t. In that way, it’s a lot like watching a coin spin on a table. It’ll either finish heads up or tails up, and you just have to wait and see. But The Awakening is a lot more entertaining to watch.

And that is largely down to the atmosphere. This is something that is integral to horror films, but which so many seem to get wrong. They either don’t spend enough time getting the audience into the right frame of mind, or they do and then ruin it (see the Paranormal Activity films). Here, though, there is a constant air of subtle creepiness, rendered all the more creepy for being uncertain of whether it is malevolent or harmless. Through the setting, the music and the acting, I found myself on the edge all the way through.

So there you have it. Very highly recommended, particularly if you like horror to reach you through more than simply loud noises and “jumpy” moments. Best served chilled, in a dark room, on a big screen, and with the volume up a little too high. And probably not alone.

An Open Letter to Odeon Cinemas

The Awakening, the film I wanted to see at the weekend.

Dear Odeon Cinemas

I write to you as not only a fan, but an enthusiast of modern film as an art form and as entertainment. As such, I frequently avail myself of your services, watching the latest films in your cinemas. I should stress, initially, that this is not some sort of brand loyalty, but rather largely stems from your mainstream cinema monopoly in the town of Southend (where my girlfriend lives, and where I most frequently visit the cinema). However, I do regularly spend my money at your establishments, and even possess a loyalty card, so perhaps that counts for something.

This weekend, my girlfriend and I were quite looking forward to seeing The Awakening, a newly released horror film which has had an extensive national advertising campaign. Remember that, it’s important. Unfortunately, this wasn’t able to happen, since you weren’t showing it.

Now, as you are doubtless aware, over Halloween you didn’t show a single good quality horror film. Paranormal Activity 3, eing the sequel to two dire offerings and only marginally better itself , does not count. I have no idea why the makers of The Awakening chose to delay its release until 11th November, when it could have cleaned up over the Halloween weekend, but that is irrelevant to this discussion. So soon after the traditional time for horror film, didn’t it occur to you that if you showed The Awakening people would quite happily come and watch it?

Of course, it isn’t as clear cut as that. It wasn’t that you made a corporate decision not to show the film. Oh no. A scant few of your cinemas did show it. The nearest to us being either Chelmsford (at least 1 hour away), or Barking (again, about an hour away). I like film, but sadly I do not like it that much.

So why did you make the decision that the people of Chelmsford and Barking deserved to see The Awakening more than the residents of Southend? The cynical might conclude that you wanted the cinema space free to flog The Immortals, which was another new release, but was a rather flashier (and more vapid-looking) Hollywood affair.

(Incidentally, you should probably have a look at how you schedule that, too. I can understand that you want to make the most of 3D technology, but there are many like myself who would rather see no film than a 3D film. Thus, having only one 2D showing a day, and at 1:30pm of all times, is moronic and infuriating.)

The Awakening is a British film, with a British writer- exactly the sort of thing we are continually told we must support. You make it very difficult to do so, even for those of us who passionately want to.

But, since I suspect that matters little to you, let me finish on this. You have lost out on money. I fully intended to visit your establishment, and spend money on tickets and possibly (though probably not- let’s face it, your prices are extortionate) drinks. But I didn’t. And you’re to blame.

Yours faithfully


Matthew S. Dent