play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Lucius Hoyos, Gina Rodriguez and Ariana Greenblatt in Awake.
Lucius Hoyos, Gina Rodriguez and Ariana Greenblatt in Awake.
Photo: Peter H. Stranks/Netflix






2/5 Stars


After a sudden global event wipes out all electronics and takes away humankind's ability to sleep, chaos quickly begins to consume the world. Only Jill, an ex-soldier with a troubled past, may hold the key to a cure in the form of her own daughter. The question is, can Jill safely deliver her daughter and save the world before she herself loses her mind.


We've had Birdbox where you can't see, A Quiet Place where you can't make noise, and now the latest in apocalyptic tales is one where humans aren't able to sleep anymore - Awake. The concept might sound interesting to some, but I am hard-pressed to say that this question has kept me up at night, and unfortunately, the movie doesn't make the answer any more interesting.

In what was clearly a plot created by an apocalyptic dartboard, a mysterious event knocks out all electricity and people's ability to sleep. One girl, however, finds that she can sleep as normally as before, and her ex-soldier mother (Gina Rodriguez) has to protect her from the rising insanity that erupts around them.

What the movie does have going for it is that you're never entirely sure where the story is heading - though this might be because not much of the plot makes any sense. It's also pretty clear from the start why the girl can sleep, and it's hard to see how no one makes this easy connection despite the sleep deprivation. The writing also looks like Swiss cheese with all the plotholes and weirdly unnecessary scenes that feel completely out of context. It sometimes feels like there were two factions who wanted to make two very different movies, and it ended up with a weird mash of two tonally different ideas.

Another odd theme that was hard to miss was its religious overtones. The girl was constantly compared - directly and indirectly - to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and some imagery drew many parallels to baptism and rebirth. It wasn't even pro-Church - in one scene, congregants start going crazy and want to sacrifice the girl for some reason - so it's never quite clear what point they were trying to make. I'm not against the use of such a theme, but it does have to make some sense, fit in with the story and not make it feel like humanity is being punished for its sins in some bizarre sermon.

There was, however, some interesting camerawork - many long cuts that roved around inside a car, through buildings and landscapes and immersed the audience into the scene for short bouts. Not that it's never been done before, but this style of cinematography had its own signature, and I just wished it was paired with a better script. Combined with some clever editing, Awake was oddly brilliant in its technical aspects for something that clearly was low-budget - perhaps an extended version of a student film that got Netflix backing.

As for the cast - they are all pretty interchangeable, and if played by any other actors, it would have made zero difference to the film. Character development was forced; there is too much backstory inferred that's left up to the audience to tease out, and while Gina Rodriguez was fine as the mother and played up the sleep deprivation well enough, it still wasn't anything particularly special.

In the end, Awake is a generic TV film churned out by the Netflix machine as an easy win for their content algorithm. It's just watchable enough for those who feel like watching something in the background that they don't have to give too much attention. The technical wins might appeal to those who actually study or work in the film industry, but for anyone else, it will be a forgettable watch when there's nothing else to watch.


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24