Gina Rodriguez gives a powerful performance as a flawed but resilient and courageous woman trying to save her kids, but other elements of this high-concept thriller fall short. Awake seems in a hurry to plunge us into mayhem at the expense of a bit more time spent developing its story and characters. Most people in the film, besides Rodriguez's Jill and her two kids, are introduced only to be killed off or promptly forgotten. This is disappointing in a couple of cases, where characters could be intriguing (like the mother-in-law, played by Frances Fisher, or Barry Pepper's pastor) or just deserve a more satisfying resolution (like Shamier Anderson's Dodge). The movie focuses squarely on the darker side of human nature, not just after the "event," when people are randomly and brutally killing one another, but even before. Jill has lost custody of her kids over an apparent drug problem and she continues to sell stolen pills, her husband died at war, her mother-in-law is sick and needs medicine, their pastor is a recovered drug addict with the scars to prove it, and so on.
Even the central concept of the film is given short shrift. The idea of what might have caused the apocalyptic scenario is briefly mentioned but not explored. It makes some sense that the sleep-deprived humans haven't fully figured out what happened in a matter of days, but it also feels like the writers just didn't deem an explanation necessary. Similarly, there is social critique implied in the film (a play on the idea of being "woke," a reference to the military's inhumane use of sleep deprivation during interrogation, a discussion of people believing repeated information as fact), but these are only dangled as ideas. Instead, the film lurches from one violent scenario to the next. Many of the film's scenes are indeed disturbing, especially when the young girl is involved, and the movie manages to sustain suspense and tension for most of its 97 minutes. At the very least, Awake won't put you to sleep.