Jill (Gina Rodriguez) is a widowed ex-soldier and recovering addict. Working as security at a research laboratory, she sells expired drugs on the side for extra cash. Her key focus: winning custody of her two children, Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) and Noah (Lucius Hoyos), who live with their grandmother.
During a routine school-run, an unspecified global event takes place, cutting the power and, it transpires, preventing the entire world from falling asleep. Without any decent shuteye, it’s not long before everyone descends into hysterical wide-eyed mania and society begins to crumble.
Jill tries to escape the city with her kids, meeting escaped convict Dodge (Shamier Anderson) en-route and heading for a research station run by her boss, Dr Murphy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). All the while keeping the closely guarded secret that Matilda is still, in fact, able to sleep.
Awake is a new Netflix apocalypse / disaster movie from director Mark Raso (Kodachrome, Copenhagen). It takes an intriguing concept and hits the gas right away, with an exciting and well-staged car crash, moving the plot along at a fair clip. But before long, it feels like things are moving too fast during these early stages. The population seems to go from mild irritation to Thunderdome at the drop of a hat. With less than 24 hours of sleep deprivation, a local church immediately settles on human sacrifice as the answer to all their problems. Imagine if any member of this congregation were ever on board a long-haul flight!
However, Awake’s main problem is that with the deluge of disaster movies that have hit our screens over the last few years, the formula has been tried and tested many times over. Take one miscellaneous calamity, a band of plucky survivors and a remote research facility that represents their only hope of survival, and you can likely guess the rest. Substitute the sleep deprived populace for zombies and you’ve got 28 Days Later. Replace the unknown catalyst with a meteorite and you’ve got last year’s global apocalypse adventure Greenland.
You can’t help but wonder if Awake’s concept might have been better served if its approach was trashier. Throwing some silly gore into the mix, supersizing the action and treading a bit lighter with the tone would mean we could probably forget the pacing issues and the recycled plot.
On the plus side, Awake has a great cast in Gina Rodriguez, the perpetually fantastic Jennifer Jason Leigh, and some superior supporting role quality in Barry Pepper and Gil Bellows. The action scenes also work well, particularly the car crash and an assault on another vehicle, which are both shown only from the interior perspective. While the inevitable rioting kicks off in the background, which is a nice touch, Raso smartly chooses to focus on Jill and her family’s reaction to events rather than the event itself.
Despite its flaws, Awake is actually pretty watchable and will satisfactorily solve your weekend Netflix viewing problems. It’s just a shame it couldn’t find a different way to explore its interesting idea, because everything feels just a little bit too familiar for Awake to make any lasting impact.
‘Awake’ is now streaming on Netflix – watch it HERE.