Gina Rodriguez's Netflix thriller Awake will send you to sleep

·4-min read
Photo credit: Peter H. Stranks/NETFLIX
Photo credit: Peter H. Stranks/NETFLIX

Netflix's latest addition to their ever-expanding list of dystopian thrillers is Awake. It stars Jane the Virgin's Gina Rodriguez as Jill, a former soldier turned drug-dealing mom who's lost custody of her two children, Matilda and Noah, to their grandmother.

The synopsis reads: "Global hysteria ensues after a mysterious catastrophe wipes out all electronics and takes away humanity's ability to sleep. Scientists race against the clock to find a cure for the unexplained insomnia before its fatal effects eliminate the human race.

"When Jill discovers her young daughter may be the key to salvation, she must decide whether to protect her children at all costs or sacrifice everything to save the world." Insomnia is an illness that has been explored countless times in films — it is rife with metaphoric symbolism and practical impacts and makes good fodder for film.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Awake's unique premise, that insomnia can strike everyone at once, is at first quite exciting. The reverse has happened in real life, of course: bouts of fainting that captivate communities are a phenomenon also explored in film (2014's The Falling, starring Maisie Williams for one).

There has been a sort of mass insomnia happening recently, too. The stress of the global health crisis has caused an uptick in sleeplessness — though, on the flipside, exhaustion is also a symptom. The need for sleep is so intrinsic to our survival that it is one of the first things altered by stress.

So of course the idea that during the apocalyptic event of the world's electronics failing, not being able to get an ounce of shut-eye is definitely anxiety-inducing. Unfortunately, Awake plays its hand early: everyone goes murderously mad, fuelled by exhaustion based delusions and the basic instinct to survive.

Photo credit: Peter H. Stranks - Netflix
Photo credit: Peter H. Stranks - Netflix

It takes only 26 minutes (about 24 hours in the movie's actual timeline) for the congregants of a church to suggest sacrificing Matilda to God. Why? God sacrificed Jesus. Okay, that makes sense!

Speaking of Jesus, the religious messaging is pretty heavy-handed in this. To go into the final scene's imagery and its overt symbolism would be to spoil the film, but if you want to know what we're referencing, you can read our explainer of the ending.

Throughout, however, should be the story of redemption for Jill, whose life never quite got back on track after her traumatising time in the army (which she mentions only in a passing comment). To keep to its thankfully tight one-hour-35-minute run time, Awake glosses over huge character development moments in favour of expediency.

Photo credit: Peter H. Stranks - Netflix
Photo credit: Peter H. Stranks - Netflix

The shortcut explanation for this is that along with insomnia comes a rapid decrease in critical thinking skills, which we suppose is a fair explanation but doesn't do much for the sense of drama. Nor does it give us any sense of hope. Yes, Matilda is meant to somehow be the cure but you don't know why — or even if she is — until the final moments, making it a truly grim undertaking.

Mixed in with this is the extreme violence: curb-stomping of people's skulls, someone shot at close range through the eye. Set against the otherwise cool tones of the movie, the gore is out of place and jarring, but not in any way that feels purposeful.

Photo credit: Peter H. Stranks/NETFLIX
Photo credit: Peter H. Stranks/NETFLIX

Unfortunately, Rodriguez doesn't have enough to work with to make the role of Jill one we empathise with or even care about. Matilda (Arianna Greenblatt) is at least less annoying than some other children in apocalypse films – she never purposefully or even accidentally-while-trying-to-do-something-good endangers anyone.

If you want to watch a movie about humanity on the brink of extinction, there are so many more to choose from that are so much better: Children of Men (an impeccable film), Greenland, even Bird Box (if you're after something a bit more trashy in a good way) are all better choices for exploring the potential final moments of humanity. Awake is simply a snore (we couldn't help ourselves).

Awake is now available to watch on Netflix

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