Netflix continues its harassment of the senses, following the success of Birdbox, where Sandra Bullock protected her children from an entity that, if you see, you die.
In Mark Raso’s Awake, chaos erupts when a solar flare wipes out technology, and humanity descends into madness after losing the ability to sleep. Only some people still manage to fall asleep, but as the country strives to find a cure before a mass population dies from sleeplessness, a young family must survive the treacherous road to safety.
The film should be a starring vehicle for Jane the Virgin‘s Gina Rodriguez, who plays Jill, a security guard and veteran with PTSD. As Jill’s mental health declines, her body strains from visible exhaustion, and Rodriguez is entirely convincing as she carries the weight of protecting her family.
Yet the direction by Mark Raso feels incomplete around some otherwise thrilling sequences. Watching Rodriguez’s Jill and her two children Matilda (a brilliant Ariana Greenblatt) and Noah (Lucius Hoyos), fly in their car off a bridge into a lake, and scramble to make it out alive, is downright terrifying. However, Raso, and editor Michele Conroy, steer away from reaction shots, making it difficult to understand how each character feels within a conversation or their response to what they’re seeing. Further, some lucky humans can sleep, but the impact of a sleepful night isn’t explored enough or, conversely, how the sleepless population is suffering without sleep. The tendency to tell but not show is frustratingly oblique.
There are certain moments in Awake where the crescendo of the score by Antonio Pinto works well alongside Alan Poon’s cinematography. Still, a scene where the family encounters a crowd of sleepless people gone crazy is incredibly similar to Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Raso also lacks attention to detail in quieter moments, and Gil Bellow’s head is chopped out of a scene in the second half of the film due to poor blocking.
While Awake is likely to slither toward the back of Netflix’s labyrinth of a library, the exciting performance by Gina Rodriguez will hopefully encourage audiences to check out her post-Jane The Virgin catalog.