The Awakening is a British supernatural horror / thriller set in Britain after The Great War. It tracks Florence Cathcart, a writer who is famed for exposing hoaxes. She is particularly interested in uncovering charlatans who exploit vulnerable grieving relatives by pretending to speak to the dead. Florence Cathcart is invited to a large isolated boarding school to find out whether stories about a child’s ghost are true following the death of a pupil.
The film’s distributors requested a 15 rating. Examiners noted strong violence and psychological threat and sexual violence, in this case a brief attempted rape scene, as the defining classification issues.
Defining issues are those which secure the age rating, though many films feature other content which is discussed by Examiners and might be of interest to parents or viewers. That information is always recorded in BBFCinsight.
Examiners use the BBFC Guidelines, current research and the law as the basis for all decision making, also bearing in mind recent decisions with similar works.
At 15 the Guidelines say 'Violence may be strong but should not dwell on the infliction of pain or injury. The strongest gory images are unlikely to be acceptable'. They add that ‘strong sadistic or sexualised violence is also unlikely to be acceptable’ and though there may be detailed verbal references to sexual violence ‘any portrayal of sexual violence must be discreet and have a strong contextual justification’.
There are two strong scenes in the film. The most notable includes physical violence and sexual threat.
A male character delivers a hefty masked blow to the heroine Florence (her face, it seems) and she falls below screen. They struggle on the ground and he tries to strangle her with her neck pinned in the crook of his arm. He then delivers another masked but hefty punch to her face which again knocks her down below screen. He leans over her, with a bit of drool, and lifts a bit of her shirt up at the waist from the waistband of her skirt, at which point the twisted face of a ghost suddenly appears snarling at Judd's face in a profile shot. Florence manages to hit Judd with the butt of his rifle (another masked blow), and runs away with some blood on her face under her nose, and a stain on her shirt. The element of sexual threat is palpable but can be shown at 15 as it is brief and the scene is quickly interrupted at the point when Florence is in most danger.
The second scene of strong violence occurs when Florence sees her father shooting her mother as she experiences a flashback with Tom's help. The scene is grisly but contextually justified: the ghost is forcing Florence to confront her own past and fears. She watches as her father shoots her mother in the stomach and we see a large bloody patch on the stomach area of her dress as she lands on the ground. She sees herself as a little girl standing between her mother and father who continues to threaten the mother and then shoots her again, impressionistically. He goes after his own daughter and ends up shooting a different child by mistake. This isn't seen in any strong detail, though it is affecting for the audience.
Harder perhaps to classify is the psychological threat in the film. The way a film makes the audience feel is an important factor in the age rating, though with horror works audiences can react in many different ways.
With psychological horror, especially works with supernatural elements, some audience members are more susceptible than others. The BBFC has to draw a balance between what the public and cinema audiences are likely to expect at different categories, and whether in some instances an audience of a particular film or genre (eg horror) are likely to expect strong material.
Here the film contains an obvious build up of tension from about 30 minutes onwards and has several jump moments, including sight of the twisted blurry face of a child ghost appearing at a peephole in the bathroom when Florence looks through it. There are also several sinister scenes which combine moments that surprise the audience with spooky coincidence such as a cushion suddenly landing on a character in bed, which she rips to shreds, finding a cigarette case (which she lost in the water in the school grounds) returned to her.
In some scenes the psychological threat combines with the strong violence, such as in a scene where Florence realises who she is, when ghost boy Tom forces her to look inside the doll's house and she remembers the past she has blocked out since she was a child.
This level of threat sits comfortably at 15, where 'Strong threat and menace are permitted unless sadistic or sexualised', given that it is psychological and in the context of a ghost film.
Other issues include an implied sex scene where characters are both clothed, and some mild language, including ‘bastard’.
A trailer for The Awakening was submitted and included several jump moments from a film which were shown without the broader context. The company were keen to secure a 12A for the trailer, so the film would be advertised more widely. Works sent in for advice are viewed by Senior Examiners who tell the company if the film or trailer is likely to receive the desired rating. If it isn’t, cuts are requested; in this case cuts were suggested to some of the stronger jump moments and brief gore, so the trailer would be acceptable for younger audiences in an unbidden context.
The Awakening was selected for National Schools Film Week in 2012.