New Delhi: What would happen if humanity completely loses the ability to sleep? This simple catastrophic premise opens the world of Mark Raso’s ‘Awake’. It is a science fiction action film recently released on Netflix. Directed by Mark Raso, the screenplay is by Mark Wages and Joseph Raso and the story is by Gregory Poirier.
That’s a big deal. Humans, after all, need to sleep. Without that rest, we quickly lose the ability to think clearly and remember even the simplest patterns. We grow angry and irrational and start to hallucinate. If we go too long without sleep, we’re told here, our brains swell until we cease to function at all. It doesn’t take long to realise that without sleep, everyone has only a few days to live. That is, almost everyone.
Awake follows Jill (Gina Rodriguez), a former soldier turned security guard who steals and sells prescription drugs to make some extra money. Her husband died in active duty, she’s fresh out of rehab, and her mother-in-law has custody of her two kids. She is a single mother and estranged from her 10-year-old daughter Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) and teenage son Noah (Lucius Hoyos). Basically, things aren’t going too well for her right now. And a worldwide apocalyptic event doesn’t help.
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 (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and her band of army personnel (who want to perform ‘experiments’ on Matilda).
The film is fiercely 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.
Gina's fun to watch on screen as always, and makes her character as believable as she can. Matching her performance is her on-screen daughter Ariana. Amidst a crowded landscape of post-apocalyptic movies about zombies, viruses, aliens, and monsters, or killer blobs, mists and creatures, it's getting harder to tell the world gone to hell story in new ways.
Raso, who co-wrote the apocalyptic thriller with his brother Joseph, keeps tensions high throughout “Awake” by compounding the stakes for our main characters 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 hows and whys 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 narrative glitches, the film fails even in its technical aspects. 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” has just enough scares and strangeness, plus a sense of dread and paranoia, to make its horror creepy and enjoyable. It’s not a flawless thriller, but enough different elements click into place, like Rodriguez and Greenblatt’s performances. There's also the story line weirdness that the Raso included from their research on sleep deprivation, about how the few days it takes to destroy one’s mind fly by at a quick pace. At the centre of violence and chaos, one family’s drive to stick together keeps them sane and grounded.
Watch it on Netflix.