Awake is Netflix’s latest entry into apocalypse cinema; a genre which, despite the last two years feeling much like a real-life apocalypse for many, still won’t die.
The story follows Jill (Gina Rodriguez), single-mother of booksmart Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) and moody teenager Noah (Lucius Hoyos). After a sudden and unexplained event causes a family day out to turn -quite literally- upside down and into a lake, it’s revealed that all electricity across the world has cut out, including cars. The family escape the crash, seemingly unscathed, although we later learn that they are left unable to sleep – along with everyone else in town. Coincidentally, Jill happens to work for a psychiatrist specialising in sleep, Dr. Murphy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is quickly introduced to us and then whisked away by the military. Things then get even worse, as Matilda and Noah’s grandmother/legal guardian Doris (Frances Fisher) discovers that Matilda is the only person left in town who can sleep. The two head to the local church for answers, where people are beginning to become restless and impulsive due to their lack of sleep. Queue one antsy small town cop with a gun, a heroic -but honestly kinda creepy- pastor and a struggle between morals and the need to survive. A few minor character deaths follow, and our three protagonists are now on the run to locate Dr. Murphy. Any questions? Me too, but don’t expect many answers.
The majority of the film is essentially a highly intense road-trip to the destination dubbed ‘The Hub’ where leading scientists hope to find a cure for the nation’s sudden onset of insomnia. Along the way our family manages to steal a working car, shoot up innocent library books, make friends with an escaped prisoner named Dodge (Shamier Anderson) and almost get eaten by cannibals. I think they were cannibals – it’s hard to tell when everyone starts acting like a zombie halfway in.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but in typical ‘Netflix Apocalypse Movie’ form, we’re left with a half-assed cliffhanger and a heap of disappointment. I’d say the number of onscreen bullet-wounds is equal to the number of plot holes, the most glaring being the fact that we spend the first 20 minutes focusing on the lack of power, only for it to be non-consequential to the overall plot. If the film had spent that time exploring our characters, then it may have been saved by Rodriguez’s performance alone. Alas, we are instead given a fairly predictable “resolution” with no real indication of what will become of these characters – so maybe a good job we don’t really care much about them from the get-go. It’s also worth noting that, whilst visually stunning, a lot of the road trip scenes felt wasteful; showing gore or terror for the sake of it, rather than to further the plot or character development.
I will say, I was surprised by the film’s use of VFX and gore; as a fan of the horror genre it’s hard to make me wince over a bit of fake blood, but there were several moments throughout Awake that left me squirming. Despite there being no actual flesh-eating zombies to combat, we’re treated to a chilling look into the fragility of a human mind without sleep and how quickly we become violent, abrasive creatures. Our lead cast also give a convincing and emotive performance; it’s just a shame so much of their on-screen time felt wasted for the sake of amping up the horror aspect.
Overall, I’d give the film a 3/5. It’s certainly not unwatchable, just predictable with a large dose of scary stuff thrown in.
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