'Bird Box'. 'A Quiet Place'. 'The Silence'. 'Io'. 'Extinction'. 'The Happening'.
It says a lot about the current state of the world that there's been a glut of high-concept apocalyptic family drama-thrillers. In fact, they're so common now that they've almost developed their own structure that's regurgitated again and again.
Things start off pretty hum-drum, then, boom, it happens! Things slowly fall apart, our central family - who have previously been split apart - pulls together to survive, clinging to their own foibles to make sense of things. Society begins to collapse. People look to religion and authority and find madness and despair. Eventually, someone somewhere has a cure for things and must be protected at all costs. The family goes through turmoil, probably from religion or authority, and escapes to an ambiguous future.
'Awake', the latest high-concept apocalypse sees the world suddenly attacked by twin cataclysms - anything with a circuit no longer works, and nobody can sleep. The reason? Nobody's really sure. Initially, we think it might be an attack by China, something about a solar flare is floated, but the point is that our characters are surviving through it and just one of them - in this instance, a young girl, is able to sleep. Of course, it's up to her mother - played by Gina Rodriguez - to find away to protect her and get her away from everyone, as well as prepare for their eventual death. Dark stuff, sure, but the central problem with 'Awake' is that it's got one - literally one - original idea and it can't provide anything else worth talking about beyond that.
Insomnia is a reasonably difficult condition to convey in a cinematic sense. Christopher Nolan, for example, tried to grapple with the idea in the aptly-titled 'Insomnia', but it didn't exactly work either and that had Al Pacino just before he finally turned in his actor's card and decided to nod off for the remainder of his career. For anyone's who had insomnia, the reality is that you're not really conscious of it. Things just blandly repeat themselves until your body just gives up on you, or worse, you lose a grip on yourself. Here, in 'Awake', everyone gets sweaty and kind of dopey, but that's it until the story decides they're going to go full-on insane.
Right around the cast, the performances fall flat. Gina Rodriguez, though she's done serious roles in the likes of 'Annihilation', feels miscast in the role. Jennifer Jason Leigh barely registers and is completely underutilised in the scheme of things. Finn Jones, likewise, is written out as quickly as he's introduced. Out of the main cast, the only one who makes an impact is Shamier Anderson, and he too is introduced and then written out far too quickly. Barry Pepper, always a welcome addition to any movie or TV show, doesn't get half the screentime he deserves, while Frances Fisher suffers a similar fate.
For such a varied cast of credible performers, writer-director Mark Raso uses them all in such a haphazard manner. Moreover, none of the characters are developed enough in any kind of meaningful way for us to connect with them. All we know of the main character is that she's a survivor-type soldier mom, while the two children aren't given any kind of depth beyond being vulnerable. Less is more is always better in high-concept movies, sure, but not when it comes to character development. We have to be able to see this world and the high concept that draws you into it through their eyes. If they're not credible and we can't empthaise with them, then it's never going to work.
'Awake' might have some glossy visuals to it and a few neat moments latched together, but overall, it's far too dull and tiresome to be anything other than yet another Netflix sci-fi thriller that takes up space on the front page and is then quietly disappears into the nethers of the library, never to be seen again.