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‘Awake’ Is An Intense Reinvigoration Of The Disaster Genre – Review

[by Nicolás Delgadillo]

Awake is a disaster movie with an interesting sci-fi hook, wherein a mysterious event shuts down all electronics (car batteries and the like included). However, worse than that, people are no longer able to fall asleep. This sets up the usual “civilization starts to break down” apocalyptic mayhem, but with the twist that everyone is quickly losing their minds from sleep deprivation and will die in a matter of days.

Lucius Hoyos as Noah, Gina Rodriguez as Jill, Ariana Greenblatt as Matilda. (Courtesy of Netflix)

That’s a fun enough premise on its own, and writer/director Mark Raso delivers on the thrills by staging genuinely harrowing scenes–usually shot as one-takes–that have a true intensity to them. Taking a page from Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, the film has a pair of gripping, long-take action sequences (a couple of which are even set in cars) and others filled with a quieter sort of tension where characters try to sneak around avoiding the notice of others. There’s a real viscerality to the entire film that’s impossible not to admire.

Awake’s stylish action and cool sci-fi ideas are only complementary to its strong emotional center. The film follows Jill (Gina Rodriguez), a former U.S. soldier who now works long hours at a medical facility following the death of her husband–a fellow soldier–and a subsequent drug abuse problem. Jill exhausts herself to the point where she can usually be found sleeping in her car, and she steals drugs from work to sell to support her two kids – older teen boy Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and younger daughter Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) – who she lost custody of during her darker days. They now stay with their grandmother Doris (Frances Fisher), and Jill’s limited time with them usually only leads to disappointment and arguments.

When the world starts to end and survival mode kicks in, Jill is forced to become the mother she’s been unable to be until now. This is made all the more difficult once the true effects of going without sleep, like disorientation, exhaustion and hallucinations, start to kick in. As time passes and the characters steadily unravel, the camera takes on a weary and swaying motion that mirrors the collective sense of delirium. All but one person is seemingly doomed: Matilda, who is still able to sleep normally.

Lucius Hoyos as Noah, Shamier Anderson as Dodge and Gina Rodriguez as Jill Adams. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Jill has a difficult choice to make and not much time to make it. She could take her daughter to the military hub led by her boss, Murphy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and hope that they can use her to discover a cure. However, Jill’s time in the military and the acts that both she and her husband committed are things that still haunt her, and handing over Matilda could condemn her to torturous experimentation. On the other hand, leaving her to fend for herself as the rest of them succumb to the effects of sleep deprivation could be equally as hopeless. Do you try to save the world or do you try to protect your daughter?

Awake is much more than its world-ending concept alone. It’s the story and emotions of the central, broken family that elevates the film beyond the usual genre trappings. The title takes on multiple meanings as well – the need to wake up to what’s important in life, the need to wake from a self-imposed state of lethargy. Several memorable moments stick, several memorable moments stick with you, whether it’s a chaotic action sequence, a bit of powerful acting, or one of the film’s more disturbing visuals.

It’s a shame that it joins the abyss of under promoted Netflix launches.

Rating: 9/10

Awake is streaming on Netflix starting June 9

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