Editor’s note: There are heavy spoilers featured in this review of AWAKE, so read with caution.
Speculative fiction and sci-fi in general typically take one of two routes: the story focuses on exactly why this is going on, or the specifics are brushed over in favor of the bigger story. AWAKE tries to do both and kind of succeeds, but mostly flops.
Gina Rodriguez plays Jill, a well-meaning mom who’s lost custody of her kids to their grandmother. Not for lack of trying, Jill is there for her kids when she can and does her best to make their situation “normal.” But things aren’t normal for long – everywhere at once, the power goes out, and chaos quickly sets in. Everyone has lost the ability to sleep, minus one snatched-up test subject woman and Jill’s daughter, Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt). With the locals torn between religion and science, Matilda becomes a symbol of hope and/or fear. Frantic to save her daughter, Jill escapes with Matilda and her son Noah (Lucius Hoyos) to get to the “hub” where there might be a cure.
In AWAKE, Jill has accepted early on that she will die from sleep deprivation, and accordingly attempts to make sure Matilda is able to make it on her own. We know Jill means well when she makes her 10-year-old daughter siphon gas, but on screen, it’s just gross. The love in Jill’s actions doesn’t translate well when we’re watching her force an old woman to accept responsibility for her daughter – the woman in question barely alive herself. Jill means well, just like she always did, but it takes more than some self-survival scenes to show that.
The film flip-flops between focusing on Jill’s family and why no one can sleep, and it would’ve been stronger to just pick one. One of the scientists tells Jill that they believe the earth experienced a solar flare that changed the population’s electromagnetic wiring, hence everyone’s bodily reaction. It’s not until the end of the movie that we find out Matilda’s heart stopping and being revived was what gave her back the ability to sleep.
AWAKE runs by-the-book for its entire hour and a half, making it feel long but also not enough. The characters that aren’t the central family do not get enough development to warrant them being included, and it’s obvious in every scene when someone becomes useful and when it’s time for them to go.
AWAKE has a sweet ending for a story we’ve seen before, and it’ll be up to the viewer if that hour and a half is worth it or not.
AWAKE is now available exclusively on Netflix.