All supernatural thrillers spring from the idea that there are things about the human spirit we just can't understand. But an excessively tangled plot can drain all the color from that essential mystery. That's the chief problem with "The Awakening," a quiet, unassuming little ghost story, set in England in the early 1920s, that's ultimately more complicated than it needs to be.
Rebecca Hall plays Florence Cathcart, a distinguished author who specializes in debunking supernatural hoaxes. She has thrown herself into her work, it seems, because she lost a beau in the Great War — she carries his silver cigarette case like a talisman, a reliquary for whatever is left of his spirit.
She's overworked and miserable, but when a teacher at a remote boarding school, Robert Mallory (Dominic West), approaches her about investigating possible ghost sightings there — which may be tied to the recent death of a student — she accepts the challenge.
The keys to the mystery of the wandering ghostling may or may not involve a creepy caretaker (Joseph Mawle), an annoyingly helpful housekeeper (Imelda Staunton) or a lonely, orphaned student (Isaac Hempstead Wright). They may also, of course, be found deep inside Florence's own psyche, as she kindles a tentative romance with Robert, who's busy tussling with his own demons.