Updated: Jul 13, 2021
An unexplained global event leads to chaos and one family (including someone unaffected by the issue plaguing everyone else), usually a broken one, must try to survive, while working to find an answer to the world’s problems. This is the basic outline for many sci-fi stories involving some kind of massive occurrence that suddenly threatens mankind. A complete power outage, women can no longer get pregnant, a virus that kills off the majority of men, etc. The important part isn’t the premise itself, it is what the story uses it to say or how it uses it to generate drama/excitement.
The sci-fi/thriller Awake (streaming on Netflix) mixes a power outage with mass insomnia, which could lead to the human race going extinct if a solution isn’t found very soon. Unfortunately, the story, and the way it comments on how quickly people freak out in a crisis, is not particularly interesting. What keeps things mildly watchable are several surprisingly effective suspense scenes and a solid central performance.
After what appears to be a solar flare knocks out electricity, no one in the world can sleep (I am confused as to how this was discovered, essentially overnight). Then, former-soldier-turned-recovering-junkie Jill finds out that her young daughter can sleep. Now on the run from those who would want to kill and/or experiment on her daughter, the two of them and Jill’s teenage son desperately search for help before it is too late.
It is difficult to discuss the plot, partly because there are a few twists, but mostly because there is so little of it. Plus, what plot there is can be guessed at within the first twenty minutes (I correctly predicted the entire remainder of the movie at that point). So, I will just say that the story is not engaging. This is the rare case of a thriller where I was less interested in the character moments and more interested in the action. While the action is pretty well-done, this is mainly due to the characters being quite dull.
However, I did like Gina Rodriguez as Jill. As the movie begins, her mother-in-law has custody of the kids (at least I think it is her mother-in-law; I’m not sure that was ever stated). Jill is still proving her reliability. Then, as happens in these stories, she is thrust into a situation where she needs to be a mother. How she feels about this and how her kids feel toward her is barely even brought up. Awake has no time for that. Though Rodriguez doesn’t get much of a chance to play drama, she is good as an “ordinary person forced into an extraordinary predicament” action hero. She brings intensity, panic, bravery and hopelessness in the right quantities. I may not really know anything about Jill as a person, but I thoroughly believed her need to protect her family. That is a credit to Gina Rodriguez.
The direction of the action scenes is also a positive. Mark Raso (who cowrote the screenplay) keeps those intimate. This is not about humanity’s struggles, it is only concerned with this family. Nearly all of the thriller scenes are seen from their perspective. The best is an early car accident, caused by the sudden loss of power. The camera is inside the car, giving the audience a sense of shock, as well as chaos. Additionally, there is an attack on a car and a wild shootout that both give off strong you-are-there vibes, precisely because we can’t tell what is going on. It puts us in the position of the characters. I am generally not entertained by action when I don’t care about the characters, yet this stuff grabbed my attention. Temporarily.
Otherwise, it is a lot of anger, selfishness and sleepiness. A ton of sleepiness. The screenplay doesn’t really know what to do with that material. It certainly doesn’t have anything fresh to say about how animalistic people can get in a crisis. Even though the action is well-directed, there just aren’t enough good things elsewhere to make this worth a look.
2¼ out of 5
Gina Rodriguez as Jill
Ariana Greenblatt as Matilda
Lucious Hoyos as Noah
Frances Fisher as Doris
Shamier Anderson as Dodge
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Murphy
Directed by Mark Raso
Written by Joseph Raso and Mark Raso