Producer: Paul Schiff Director: Mark Raso Screenplay: Joseph Raso and Mark Raso Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Ariana Greenblatt, Lucius Hoyos, Shamier Anderson, Frances Fisher, Finn Jones, Gil Bellows, Barry Pepper and Jennifer Jason Leigh Distributor: Netflix
It’s perhaps too easy to dismiss “Awake” as a snoozer, but unfortunately it’s also completely accurate. The apocalyptic would-be thriller concerns some unexplained event that knocks out power everywhere and makes it impossible for almost anyone to sleep—except, of course, a couple of characters and all its unfortunate viewers, who are likely to doze off before an extremely dopey reveal allows for a supposedly “happy” ending—for its focus family, at least, if not the rest of humanity.
The family consists of Jill (Gina Rodriguez), an ex army medic and recovering drug addict (as well as small-time pill pusher), and her two children, surly teen Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and sweet daughter Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt). Shortly after she picks up the kids from her mother Doris (Frances Fisher), their legal custodian, one day, Jill’s car is struck by a wayward driver and pushed into a lake, and the three must escape from the submerged vehicle. All survive, though Matilda has to be revived on shore. A cop explains something has knocked out all the power; even cars are affected.
That night only Matilda is able to sleep, and when Jill makes it to her job as a security guard at a local college, she finds her boss Dr. Murphy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a specialist on sleep deprivation, being hustled off by the military. Her assistant Brian (Finn Jones) explains that Murphy is being taken to a research institute that will serve as the hub for investigation of a strange malady that’s affected the population—a prolonged insomnia with dire consequences as it affects their brains.
Jill, Noah and Brian rush to the church where Doris has taken Matilda, and its pastor (Barry Pepper) is presenting the girl to his congregation as a miracle child who can still sleep. In their desire to keep Matilda the unruly parishioners kill Brian, and Jill is barely able to escape with her and Noah.
At this point the screenplay suddenly decides to shift the rules, permitting Jill to find a car that still functions in order to turn the movie into a road thriller. After a stop at a library to figure out the location of the hub whose longitude and latitude Brian had revealed to Noah, they’re threatened by a bunch of escaped prisoners. Fortunately one of them, Dodge (Shamier Anderson) turns out to be a good guy, and rather than simply stealing the car with Matilda in it he becomes their partner in the trip to the hub.
There Jill gets a less than warm welcome from Murphy and her colleague Dr. Katz (Gil Bellows), who are anxious to experiment on Matilda in their search for a cure. Jill, Noah and Dodge all face imminent danger as they try to save the girl and one another, and in the end most of them survive. The key to doing so involves something akin to a resurrection, one of those “simple” solutions that, in this case, seems not just arbitrary but silly.
An acceptable, if hardly world-shattering, thriller might have been fashioned from the sleep-deprivation premise, but the script by Joseph and Mark Raso muffs it at every turn, and the execution is mediocre to poor. Mark’s direction never manages to maintain much momentum, and while Rodriguez gives an energetic performance, the rest of the cast—with the exception of Pepper, who is smoothly creepy–come across with bland, enervating turns. Andrew M. Stearn’s production design and Alan Poon’s cinematography conspire to present a visually unattractive look, the images drab and bleached of color, while Michele Conroy’s editing is slack and Antonio Pinto’s score gloomily ordinary.
It would have been an amusing exercise in metacinema had the makers decided to have the cure for the sleep deprivation at the heart of the story be watching their own movie. As it is, it’s real-world insomniacs who might benefit most from “Awake.”