Netflix got a huge taste of commercial success when its 2018 Sandra Bullock sci-fi thriller Bird Box shot through the roof as a global smash. Of course, it starred an Oscar-winning actress and was helmed by an Oscar-winning director, Susanne Bier. It perhaps also inspired some copycats, or so it seems, by the arrival of a new apocalyptic thriller this week on Netflix called Awake.
If that title just makes it too easy to throw out lines like ‘This one will put you to sleep,” it still sadly lacks the fire of Bird Box or even a hint of credibility that keeps us engaged in a rather weak premise. In Awake, a mysterious global catastrophe causes the human race to suffer the collective fate of insomnia, a sleepless state that portends the end of humanity unless a cure can be found in time to keep the species moving forward into an uncertain future.
Bird Box also was about a strange worldwide malady that caused humans to commit suicide and centered on the fight for survival of a mother trying to protect her two kids — all of whom must wear masks over their eyes or be dealt the fate of the rest of humanity. Likewise, Awake focuses on Jill (Rodriguez), a trained soldier desperately battling the lack of sleep and other dangers as she struggles to protect her two kids, older brother Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and younger sister Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) — the latter apparently the only known human who has no problem sleeping at all. She’s an angelic figure who could unlock the secret to a cure, which is why so many players here want to get her in their grasp. With help along the way from the very welcome Dodge (a well-cast Shamier Anderson), they set out against the elements of a society just simply hoping to stay awake long enough to get some sleep, before that becomes a permanent state for them.
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There are lots of predictable action twists and turns, and Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) is intense as hell in this role — a real firebrand caught up in a rather silly premise that just didn’t compute for me, even though I generally love these end-of-world disaster films and have great admiration for its director and co-writer Mark Raso, who delivered another Netflix film I thought was exceptional called Kodachrome starring Jason Sudeikis and Ed Harris. Here with a script co-written by his brother Joseph Raso with story credited to Gregory Poirier, it all just seems like a gimmick to replicate the fascination audiences had with the likes of Bird Box, right down to a harrowing car-crashing scene early on that signals all the big trouble ahead. Thematically it covers a number of social issues including PTSD, among other things, and generally tries to make a case for our future in the hands of a new generation, but none of it, other than a fierce Rodriguez, was particularly compelling.
In supporting roles, the wonderful Frances Fisher is given too little to do, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, always interesting, tries to make her rather thankless doctor role pop as much as she can. Barry Pepper has his moments as The Preacher. It indeed might be too easy to play games with that title, Awake, but I kept thinking the solution for this sleepless problem plaguing the human race would be to just sit down and try to watch this movie.
Paul Schiff is the producer. Netflix begins streaming it globally Wednesday. Check out my video review with scenes from the movie at the link above.
Do you plan to see Awake? Let us know what you think.
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