I think the events in AWAKE (2021), a new Netflix apocalyptic thriller are already happening for real.
The premise is a mysterious global event causes everyone to lose their ability to sleep. I know so many people, myself included, who are dealing with sleep issues, as in not being able to, that it’s easy to see how the screenwriters got this idea. It’s happening right now.
Okay, I don’t mean this literally. No conspiracy theories here.
But one of the reasons I enjoyed AWAKE is its story taps into something real that is going on in the here and now. People really are struggling to get a good night’s sleep. And the reason isn’t mysterious or unknown either. We’re all stressed out beyond the scope of imagination between a global pandemic, political divisions and hatred, racial divides, and on and on I could go. Yes, life these days is a perfect sh*tstorm.
But back to AWAKE. The other reason I enjoyed it is I do enjoy apocalyptic movies, and while AWAKE isn’t as effective as A QUIET PLACE (2018) or BIRDBOX (2018) it still has its moments. That being said, other than its plot where people lose the ability to sleep, it doesn’t really offer anything new to the genre.
AWAKE follows three characters during this catastrophic event, Jill (Gina Rodriguez), her teen son Noah (Lucius Hoyos), and younger daughter Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt). At first, they are just trying to survive the insanity, as people without sleep begin to lose their minds, and in this case, the effects of sleep deprivation for some reason are accelerated. But soon they find themselves heading to a secret destination to meet up with Jill’s employer, a psychiatrist Dr. Murphy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an expert on sleep, who is leading the charge to find a cure, as Murphy has discovered a person who still can sleep. And Jill is heading there because her daughter Matilda also can still sleep.
It’s not an easy decision for Jill, however, because she knows Dr. Murphy worked for the military as an expert on sleep deprivation torture. In short, Jill doesn’t trust Murphy. Along the way, they meet up with an escaped convict Dodge (Shamier Anderson) who turns out to the the Mister Rogers of convicts as he proves mighty neighborly to the family and decides to help them on their quest to reach Dr. Murphy.
Actually, Dodge was one of my favorite characters in the movie, even if he wasn’t all that realistic. And that’s because he was played by Shamier Anderson, who we just saw a few weeks back as the accidental stowaway in the Netflix science fiction thriller STOWAWAY (2021). Anderson’s performance was one of the best parts of that movie, and it’s one of the best parts of this one. He makes Dodge a very sincere character, somewhat odd since he’s an escaped convict, but welcomed in this story because everyone else is violent and nutty.
The three leads are all fine. Gina Rodriguez as mom Jill, Lucius Hoyos as her son Noah, and Ariana Greenblatt as young daughter Matilda who mysteriously still possesses the ability to sleep. They are all believable and act sufficiently terrified and tense at all the right moments. The trouble is, we’ve seen all these moments before, whether in other apocalyptic movies or in TV shows like THE WALKING DEAD (2010 – present). The film presents nothing new in this department.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is sufficiently cold and stern as sleep expert and psychiatrist Dr. Murphy, but the character reminded me an awful lot of a similar medical villain character played by Glenn Close, Dr. Caroline Caldwell, in the superior zombie thriller THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016).
Barry Pepper, who played the dad in need of rescue from some very hungry alligators in CRAWL (2019), enjoys some fine moments as a pastor who prays with young Matilda hoping to achieve a miracle. What makes the character interesting is that he’s not the typical cliche clergyman, but instead finds himself defending the girl against his crazy parishioners who float the idea that the girl needs to be sacrificed for the miracle to happen. It’s one of the more riveting sequences in the movie, and it’s too bad it occurs early on.
Frances Fisher also enjoys some fine moments as Jill’s not always friendly mother-in-law Doris, who means well when she brings Matilda to church. And Finn Jones, who starred in GAME OF THRONES (2011-16) and played man with the super hand Danny Rand in IRON FIST (2017-18) is on “hand” here as Jill’s co-worker Brian who pleads with her to bring Matilda to see Dr. Murphy.
The screenplay by Joseph Raso and Mark Raso, who directed, based on a story by Gregory Poirier, is okay. I liked the premise of people losing the ability to sleep, and it does a solid job of putting the characters in tense situations. Both the dialogue and characterizations are strong. The story never reveals the cause of the apocalyptic event, and I didn’t think it needed to.
The weakest part of the screenplay is that nearly every suspenseful sequence is derivative of similar scenes we’ve seen before. Other than the plot point of losing sleep, it offers nothing fresh.
I also wasn’t crazy about the ending. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense. The film does hint about this solution in a brief hospital scene early on, so it’s not a complete shocker. I just didn’t really buy it as a realistic solution.
Mark Raso directed AWAKE, and has a good go of it. I was enjoying this one throughout, and it moves at a crisp pace. It’s one of those movies where I recognized yup, seen this before. That’s not new, but the way it was all presented made me not care that I had seen it before. I found it to be a fun thriller.
Is AWAKE so thrilling and disturbing it will keep you awake at night?
But it will keep you awake for its 96 minute running time as it takes you on a race-against-time thrill ride where its small band of characters have to find answers to their sleep problem, because if they don’t, humanity will die out in the most gruesome of ways.