Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Another new sci-fi film has just landed on Netflix in the form of director Mark Raso’s sci-fi thriller Awake, and, while it isn’t as good as previously released fellow 2021 Netflix sci-fi films Outside the Wire, Space Sweepers, Stowaway and Oxygen, it’s another enthralling science fiction offering from the renowned streaming service, the premise of which is very interesting.
Awake follows a mother and her two children as they attempt to survive after the world’s electronic devices suddenly cease functioning and people simultaneously lose the ability to sleep, and its exploration of sleep deprivation is both extremely fascinating and very frightening.
It’s a well-known fact that the longer one goes without sleep, the more difficult it becomes for one to function, and Awake does an excellent job of demonstrating how bad things could get after only a few days if we lost the ability to sleep indefinitely. As its narrative unfolds, Awake features some strikingly graphic imagery and shockingly extreme violence as people become increasingly erratic and unhinged due to lack of sleep, and this movie certainly doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing how horrific things could get if sleep were no longer possible, which is highly commendable and keeps it consistently compelling from start to finish.
The cause of the cessation of electronic devices’ functionality and the loss of peoples’ ability to sleep is pretty predictable – it was the first thing that entered my mind when the proverbial feces hit the fan in the film, anyway – and arguably lazy and vague, but it’s also admirably logical, and sometimes the most obvious or simplest possible explanation for a fictional mystery is also the best one to offer, so I’m fine with the answer that Awake gives to the question of what caused technology and sleep to go out the window since it’s fairly believable.
However, Awake’s subject matter is unfortunately more compelling than its characters, none of which are developed particularly well, but it does boast some praiseworthy performances nevertheless.
Gina Rodriguez, who portrays the aforementioned mother in the movie, Jill, very effectively conveys her character’s love for and concern about her two children as society crumbles around the three of them, and also does a superb job of demonstrating the tremendous and constantly increasing mental toll that sleep deprivation takes on Jill as the movie progresses, and Jill’s motivations as a mother are clear and understandable, but despite being hinted at and seeming intriguing, Jill’s backstory is never fully explored or fleshed out, which makes the character feel disappointingly undercooked.
Meanwhile, Ariana Greenblatt delivers a commendably emotional performance as Jill’s daughter, Matilda, however, the character feels like nothing more than a plot device to keep the movie moving from one point to the next; Lucius Hoyos does a good job of making Jill’s son, Noah, seem like a typically moody teen, but the character doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the plot, and, since he lingers in the background doing very little for substantial portions of the movie, when he does actually do something of significance, he feels like a plot tool that the movie put in its pocket to pull out to use when required to solve a narrative problem and not a character about which the movie actually cares nor one that it has any interest in developing; Shamier Anderson, who portrayed the titular stowaway in Awake’s aforementioned recently-released fellow Netflix sci-fi film Stowaway, makes his character, Dodge, come across as admirably virtuous and likable, but Dodge’s backstory and motivations are never explored, and it’s difficult to truly connect with, care about or understand him as a result; Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Doctor Murphy is basically only in the movie to spout some exposition; and I guess the character portrayed by Finn Jones, of whom I’m a fan from his work in the Marvel/Netflix show Iron Fist and Game of Thrones, serves a purpose, but the only thing I have to say about Jones in this movie is that he is in it, because his character does very little – I probably wouldn’t even remember him if I weren’t a fan of other roles played by the actor who portrays him.
However, despite its character development issues, thanks to its fascinating premise and exploration and demonstration of the effects of extended sleep deprivation, Awake is still an enthralling film that manages to maintain Netflix’s recent hot streak when it comes to sci-fi movies, and if you have Netflix access and an hour and a half to spare, I recommend giving it a watch.
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