Who are you if you don’t remember who you are? Can you be held responsible for your past? Can you really decide your future?
In AWAKE, a man (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) wakes up in the hospital after a terrible accident with no recollection of who he is or what’s happened before that very moment. Unfortunately for him, detective Frank Ward (Malik Yoba) is more than happy to clue this John Doe in on his suspicions.
You see, there’s a serial killer on the loose with a taste for mutilation, and the most recent victim was just recovered from a car covered in this John Doe’s blood. Not a great look.
Just when it seems that John Doe’s fate is a foregone conclusion, he finds support in his hospital nurse Diana (Francesca Eastwood). While she’s happy to play armchair psychologist at first, eventually she has to decide whether to become John’s accomplice or turn her back on her patient.
In an attempt to find the truth, John sets out to trace the killer’s steps and discover his past.
AWAKE is a film continuing in the grand tradition of late-20th Century serial killer films like The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and Kiss the Girls. The colors are subdued, the actors speak in hushed tones, and the story contains only what is absolutely necessary. And yet, the very best of the ’90s serial killer films knew when to deviate from these sub-genre stereotypes, while AWAKE never quite hits that groove.
This is a somber film that takes its subject matter as seriously as it possibly can. In fact, I don’t know if I recall a single character smiling once in the whole film. While I doubt the film’s scenario would inspire much laughter in real life, the complete lack of it struck me as a little false. Everyone’s had that moment of near-giddy disbelief in the face of something terrible. A few moments where the characters get to step back and marvel at their plight would have been good for the story.
Each scene unfolds at the same measured tempo, giving the film the feeling of a metronome left on in the other room — its effect is subtle but cumulative. By the beginning of the second act, you’re pulled into the vast desolation of someone in John Doe’s predicament. His is a story without a beginning, so can it have an end?
Visually, AWAKE takes its cues from some of the better serial killer stories of the last decade. I enjoyed the nods to Hannibal and True Detective, clear skies and innocent flowers play backdrop to devastatingly beautiful murders while sensitive intuits ponder their fate.
Francesca Eastwood and Malik Yoba are especially standout in their performances as the nurse and detective, respectively. Eastwood’s Diana balances heart with a much-needed toughness that plays well opposite Meyers’ John Doe; while Yoba’s flask-sipping detective Ward brings a refreshing, no-nonsense approach to every scene he’s in.
AWAKE is a good, contemplative visit to the sub-genre serial killer horror. Worth a watch on a cool fall night. AWAKE hits Digital and VOD on August 16th.