Apocalyptic thriller has graphic violence, peril, language.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Awake is a graphically violent and darkly suspenseful film with a strong but flawed Latina character as its lead. A global event wiping out electronics and making it so humans can't sleep means the characters are slowly going crazy from sleep deprivation. This affects different people differently, but most seem to get more violent. The film shows this graphically in shootings, drownings, car crashes, fights, electric shocks, and other gruesome deaths. A mob mentality seems to pervade, with a church group shouting to sacrifice a child, a bunch of people standing naked in the middle of the road (we see them from the back and from the waist up), and a group that tries to violently break into a car and drag a family out. The main character is trying to save her two kids, whom she's lost custody of due to a previous drug problem. She still sells pills to make extra money. A former soldier herself, she has survival skills that will help her, and her kids demonstrate bravery and quick thinking as well. There's quite a lot of swearing, including versions of "f--k" and "s--t," "d--k," "hell," "goddamn," "bitch," "pr--k."
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What's the Story?
Jill (Gina Rodriguez) is getting off her night shift security job and going to pick up her kids at the start of AWAKE. As Jill, daughter Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt), and son Noah (Lucius Hoyos) drive off, something goes haywire and sends their car veering off the road, where another car crashes into them and plunges them into the river. They discover the next day that the electrical event that caused their car crash has affected the whole planet, and it's making it impossible for humans to sleep. A colleague details the gory fate that awaits people, mentally and physically, when they are deprived of sleep. But Matilda, it turns out, can sleep, making her unique and of extreme interest to military researchers, led by Jill's former psychiatrist Murphy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), trying to figure out what's going on. As Jill, Noah, and Matilda make their way to the military "hub" for help, they pick up an escaped prisoner who calls himself Dodge (Shamier Anderson) and encounter all kinds of frightening situations and people losing their minds.
Is It Any Good?
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.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the explanation for the apocalyptic event given in the film Awake. Did it make sense? Do you think this could actually happen on earth? Where could you find more research on the topic?
The depiction of what happens to humans physically and mentally when they're deprived of sleep is pretty gruesome. Did you find their behavior and explanations believable? Why or why not?
Jill has been in rehab and is now clean, but she continues selling pills. Why do you think she does that? What do you think about her choices?
Had you figured out why Matilda was able to sleep before the end of the film?
- On DVD or streaming: June 9, 2021
- Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Ariana Greenblatt
- Director: Mark Raso
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
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