Awake movie review: Gina Rodriguez's Netflix thriller offers a boring rendition of A Quiet Place-esque world
From phoney plot twists to poorly etched characters, Netflix's Awake is a snooze-fest of the highest calibre.
A post-apocalyptic world burdened by the aftermath of a recent wave of extinction; while throngs disintegrate into madness, a lone family tries hard to survive amidst an impending doom – sounds familiar? As Bird Box raced to Netflix’s highest-rated films ever, it became evident that OTT audiences were more than ready for the “what ifs” of a world devoid of normalcy.
Adding another feature under its social thriller umbrella, Netflix’s Awake promised yet another edge-of-the-seat marathon filled with bated breaths and tense gasps. What the Mark Raso directorial instead offers is a boring rendition of A Quiet Place-esque world.
The film opens with Jill (Gina Rodriguez), a former army personnel who lives life in the perimeters now. Working in a laboratory as a security guard, she is a single mother and estranged from her 10-year-old daughter Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) and angsty teenage son Noah (Lucius Hoyos). Despite siphoning off expired medicines (on the down-low) for scrap money, Jill is depicted as a large-hearted mamma bear, desperate to save her children when the world suddenly collapses around her.
Men, women and children lose their ability to sleep due to what is defined as an abrupt “solar flare”. Chaos ensues and people begin losing a grip on their actions due to sleep deprivation. However, Matilda’s ‘normal’ sleep cycle stands out as an eyesore. Consequently, the child finds herself in a tug-of-war between religious fanatics (who want to sacrifice her) and Jill’s former colleague Dr Murphy (played by a very tired Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her band of army personnel (who want to perform ‘experiments’ on Matilda).
The film is callously placed in the middle of such apparently testing scenarios. Almost inert in its sense of urgency and nonchalant in its treatment of a global crisis, Awake is both lazy and uninteresting. Gregory Poirier’s story hardly gains any believable momentum for viewers to remain invested in Jill’s journey to survival.
The plot twists feel rather contrived, to an extent that certain face-offs feel gimmicky and laughable. Worthy (or perhaps not) of note is a supposedly emotional scene between Jill and Matilda, where the mother tries to train the child in shooting. As Jill’s raspy breaths dole out impassioned words, you expect pearls of wisdom from an imminently dying mother to her terrified child. But what you get instead is a one-liner on how a gun can be used “not just for people but for animals too.” Such tepid scenes (and multiple others) thrust the film into a spoof-like space.
Character arcs are criminally ill-treated with hardly any fleshed-out role. Sitting atop the disappointment bandwagon are itty-bitty roles by Frances Fisher, Barry Pepper, Shamier Anderson, and the cherry on the icing — Jason-Leigh. These able artistes populate a few scenes and leave without etching a single mark in the audience’s memories.
But where the Netflix thriller fails as a script is in its narrative build-up. A key trope in such a genre, Awake merely bypasses the how’s and why’s of such a catastrophe and jumps to a botched-up conclusion instead. With missing sub-texts, viewers are just asked to buy into a world where only two days of sleeplessness can create monsters out of people.
The nihilism of the storyline aside, Awake still revolves around scientifically unsound principles. Dr Murphy takes a weak attempt at a plausible explanation when she mentions how the “change in electromagnetic fields” led to permanent alterations in the human brain, but it’s still insufficient, considering the whole plot rests on this fact.
Despite Rodriguez’s obvious attempt at widening her repertoire with Awake’s otherworldly appeal, her acting is less-than-memorable. The actress’ emphatic screen presences in her earlier works stand testament to her ability to hold viewers’ attention and keep them championing her cause. That could well have been the driving force behind her casting. Alas, Awake fails to propel her filmography in any noteworthy direction.
Notwithstanding the narrative glitches, the film fails even in its technical aspects. Andrew M Stearn’s production design belies a world that is gradually descending into anarchy. Each backdrop feels like it’s a cheap rip-off from the sets of an action film. The cinematography (Alan Poon) too is a yawn-fest considering the scope in a social thriller.
Awake is a good example of the systemic failure of all cinematic departments to step up and produce quality content. In fact, by the end of its 96-minute runtime, the film’s title almost stands as a challenge.
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