Awake is a sci-fi suspense movie starring Gina Rodriguez from Netflix. Everything was normal, till one inexplicable moment when everything electronic ceased to work. To make matters worse, whatever caused this global blackout also seems to have deprived the human population of the ability to sleep. With a limited timeframe that people can go without sleep, the race is on to find a cure for this bizarre phenomenon. And the secret may rest with one young girl who, for some reason, is unaffected by this global phenomenon.
Handling tension in a movie is an extremely tricky thing for two reasons. First, to create it, a movie needs to be able to present the viewer with a situation that sells its danger well enough that the viewer loses themselves in it and gets caught up in the moment, forgetting it’s all just a movie. The second struggle for a movie wishing to create tension is the difficulty of keeping it. Establishing a moment of tension is challenging enough, but when a film’s core revolves around that tension being ever-present the struggle becomes even greater. Unfortunately, Awake does a far better job with the former, than the latter of the above challenges.
As our narrative opens, we are introduced to Jill(Rodriguez). She is a hard-working single mom who doesn’t currently have custody of her children. Through this initial impression of Jill, we find a flawed character, who seems to be trying to make things work. Or brief introduction to Jill ends as she picks up her kids for a visit from her mother-in-law’s house. While driving home for an evening with her kids, Awake’s disaster occurs, and Jill’s world comes crashing down around her.
This opening to the movie’s main plot delivers exactly what it needs to. It comes without warning, crashing a perfectly normal moment and sending it spiraling out of control. The sequence that unfolds as Jill struggles to get her children through this preliminary threat introduces a new angle to Jill and really establishes how much focus Jill has on her children.
As the world realizes that humanity’s ability to sleep is lost the confusion and fear that quickly escalates is delivered effectively. The fact that Jill’s daughter Matilda can actually sleep creates an even more perilous situation, as Jill instantly realizes how much of the desired commodity she is about to become. And how much danger that will put her in.
The family’s initial confrontation with what this revelation has in store for Matilda’s safety is easily the best sequence of the film. The sheer terror as the situation at first slowly, then rapidly descends into rank madness delivers a tense and terrifying sequence. Unfortunately, it is also the only time the movie manages to deliver on this level of tension.
As Awake follows the family as it flees from deadly peril to deadly peril, the sequences that fill its narrative fail at instilling the same fear as its early moments due to the implementation of the movie’s core concept. Namely, that no one has slept in days.
Due to the inevitable effects of the unending sleep deprivation the world is suffering from, the threats faced by the family become less and less terrifying. Even while the choices of everyone in the movie become more erratic and unpredictable, they become less terrifying due to their lack of intent. People are no longer threats that are looking for the family, they are now victims that struggle to maintain any level of critical decision making at all.
Bringing no quantifiable help to Awake‘s attempt to capture the audience is it by the numbers cinematography. While the approach to how each moment is shown never goes really wrong, it never delivers those visual angles that truly pull the viewer into the moment. While the opening dangers are constructed well enough to overcome this, the later threats don’t have the power to pull the viewer in on their own.
The acting throughout the movie comes in at a solid good. While it overall doesn’t deliver anything too notable, there are a couple of scenes between Jill and Matilda that is striking to witness. Rodriguez does a good job of delivering Jill’s obsessive focus on her children, even as her mind begins to break from her want for sleep.
When all is said and done, Awake delivers a decent tale that starts far stronger than it ends. While its unique premise initially helps present something different, it quickly comes to get in its own way.
Awake is streaming now on Netflix.
- Rating - 5.5/105.5/10