Awake (Movie Review)

Awake (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: When a global phenomenon knocks out all electricity and takes away the human race's ability to sleep, a mother tries to find a safe haven for her two children - one of whom is a "sleeper" who can still get rest.

REVIEW: Genre fans are used to watching movies about characters who struggle to stay awake, knowing something terrible will happen to them if they fall asleep, but director Mark Raso's apocalyptic thriller Awake flips the concept around and imagines a world where terrible things happen because nobody can sleep. Nearly everyone on the planet loses the ability to sleep in the same moment when all of the power goes out and all electronic devices - including modern vehicles - stop working. People can't last long without sleep, we're told within the film that loss of critical thinking begins at 48 hours without sleep, while hallucinations and motor failure will begin around the 96 hour point. Beyond that, organs will start failing and eventually the heart will just give out. So if this problem is going to be solved, it's going to have to be solved very quickly.

Raso, who also scripted the film with Joseph Raso (working from a story by Gregory Poirier) does do a good job giving us glimpses into this world without sleep. Not only do we see a military-supported scientific team headed up by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Gil Bellows as doctors Murphy and Katz shooting up with stimulants while conducting experiments and trying to find a cure for consciousness, since sedatives don't cut it anymore, we're also shown moments in a hospital where someone can't be put out for surgery and coma patients start waking up. This brings the thought that it might have been interesting to see the Rasos explore this concept in a film that was more of an ensemble with a wider scope. Instead, Awake does have a rather narrow focus; we're seeing this event from the perspective of a troubled single mother, Gina Rodriguez as Jill.

Awake Mark Raso Lucius Hoyos Gina Rodriguez Ariana Greenblatt

Jill has two children, 10-year-old Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) and teenage Noah (Lucius Hoyos). Every movie family has that kid who's a pain in neck (or is that just every family, period?), and here Noah is the one who's always butting heads with his mom, while Matilda unexpectedly becomes a highly intriguing figure in this new world as she's one of the only two known people who have retained the ability to sleep. The audience will probably be able to figure out why long before the realization strikes the characters. So Jill has a choice to make: does she hand her daughter over to the military so they can study her in their effort to save the human race, or does she just try to make sure Matilda will be able to survive in the apocalypse? She makes a choice, and Noah thinks she should make the other one. Dramatic conflict!

Awake is an interesting, engaging film. I came to care about Jill and her kids as the story went on, and I was hooked to see where this was all going. My biggest issue with it was that it could have used some kind of visual representation of the ticking clock element; perhaps text on the screen letting us know just how much time has passed since people have been able to sleep. Without that, the apocalypse seemed to be progressing much too rapidly. Not much screen time passes between the moment we hear people can't sleep and the scene where a church group suggests that sacrificing a child might be the thing that will allow them to get some rest. The world seems to descend into complete lawlessness within a few hours, but then when a character says how many days have gone by it was a surprise to me. "Oh, that long already?"

Sleep deprivation leads to a good amount of violence in Awake, though the level of the violence didn't always seem likely to me because Raso doesn't let us in on the passage of time, so things seem to get to some outrageous points too soon.  

Awake Shamier Anderson Lucius Hoyos Mark Raso

The actors deliver good performances in the midst of this madness. Rodriguez makes for a solid heroine, with a complicated past that doesn't mean much when things really get rolling. The Noah character could have been annoying if brought to life by a different actor, but Hoyos is able to make him likeable. Greenblatt was recently a standout in the fun creature feature Love and Monsters, and here she continues to prove that she's one of the best child actresses currently around. Speaking of movies about sleep, she happens to be the daughter of Shon Greenblatt from Freddy's Dead. Frances Fisher, Finn Jones, and Barry Pepper make brief appearances, with Pepper sticking around just long enough to tell Matilda a life story that didn't seem like something the 10-year-old needed to know.

Another notable cast member is Shamier Anderson, who shows up as an escaped convict who goes by the name Dodge. Dodge is a good character whose role in the story kind of just sputters out in the end. It's a bit disappointing.

But some disappointments and timeline confusion aside, Awake is a decent way to kill 97 minutes. The concept could have been handled in other ways that might have been better, but this approach works for some apocalyptic adventure time.

Awake will be available to watch on the Netflix streaming service as of June 9th.

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