Mark Raso’s new Netflix thriller takes a decent setup only to drag it through absurd, underdeveloped set pieces.
In the world of Awake, the plague that’s fallen over mankind is one we’re all at least vaguely familiar with: insomnia. A brilliant flash and satellites falling from the sky, and suddenly the entire world has lost its ability to sleep. Bleary, desperate citizens watch helplessly as their sanity slips away, forming classic post-apocalyptic factions. There are criminals that run rampant, violent zealots, and creepy militias.
It’s shockingly simple yet horrifying to imagine a world without sleep, as any new parent or caffeine-addled student will tell you, and it offers a fairly rich playground to explore the way so much of the modern world makes rest impossible. It could be a handy critique of capitalism. Hell, it can even tackle some of the same ground as Bo Burnham’s newest Netflix special and examine the zombification of the population via the Internet. That is, if not for one glaringly fatal flaw in Awake’s conceit.
All of this madness starts taking place a mere 24 hours after the inciting incident. That’s right. People went exactly one day before turning into Mad Max-level lunatics.
Awake follows Jill (Gina Rodriguez), a veteran overcoming PTSD and single mom to teenage Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and little Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt). She’s taking care of the kids when the mysterious disaster strikes, and the world not only sees all of its electronics fall dead, but it also completely loses the ability to sleep. That means Jill only has a matter of days before she succumbs to paranoia, hallucinations, and ultimately death. When she realizes her daughter is perhaps the only person left capable of sleeping, it’s a race against the clock to protect her and find a cure.
It’s as if the filmmakers committed to a vision of the script without ever stopping to wonder if any part of it actually made sense.
Director Mark Raso wrote the screenplay with his brother Joseph Raso, and it’s an absolutely joyous mess. By rushing the timeline and condensing every scrap of insanity into the course of a single week, it renders the entire concept absurd. However, it’s absurd in a way that disrupts Awake’s self-seriousness, unexpectedly making the entire film far more watchable. Take for instance a moment when the parishioners at the family’s church realize Matilda’s significance, only for one of them to say, “We should sacrifice the girl!”
That’s right. Just two days of no sleep, and an entire congregation is ready to hurl poor Matilda into the mouth of a metaphorical volcano. And that is hilarious. To be clear, it’s not a moment that’s played for humor. Raso seems to have no idea how utterly laughable this moment is, and that’s sort of the beauty of it.
Awake is racing at a clip to show the world it wants without taking the time to convince the audience to believe it. It’s as if the filmmakers committed to a vision of the script without ever stopping to wonder if any part of it actually made sense. That somehow the entire world has immediately realized after a single sleepless night that no one can sleep feels preposterous, but to leap from there to scenes of marauding gangs and attempted child murder is insane.
The film’s mistake is that it thinks showing us the world is all we need to believe it. But spending just a little more time on the setup (and having even a rudimentary understanding of sociology or insomnia) instead of plowing forward toward the action could have turned this disaster into a really fun, serviceable little thriller. Unfortunately, unless you’re in the mood for a mess, Awake’s going to have a hard time keeping you onboard.
Awake is now on Netflix.