So first things first, have you ever stayed awake for 6 days straight? No? I didn’t think so. And I haven’t either. That’s what makes it hard to judge if the events in an “insomniapocalypse” would play out like they do in the new Netflix original, Awake, which premiered this week.
Awake is currently sitting at 4.8 stars out of 10 on IMDB, and a 29% positive audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. With numbers like that, you might think you should skip this one. But as a PostApocalypticMedia.com reader, you likely have some affinity for apocalypse stories, and can look past the usual criticisms and appreciate the post-apocalyptic aspects of a film.
So is Awake a good post-apocalyptic movie? I think yes, it is, or at least it’s much better than the reviews that normal viewers are giving it.
In Awake, Gina Rodriguez plays Jill, mother of teenage son Noah and younger daughter Matilda. After a global solar flare event, an EMP wipes out all electronics. But a lack of electricity or working cell phones turns out to the the least of their problems as it quickly becomes clear that it is no longer possible for anyone to sleep. Even folks unconscious or in comas suddenly wake up, and sedatives and even anesthesia lose their effectiveness.
It’s explained that within days without sleep, victims will suffer loss of critical thinking, hallucinations, motor failure, and eventually organs will fail until the heart shuts down. And symptoms are accelerated, appearing 2-3 times faster than expected. So, in less than a week, most of the world’s population, with very few exceptions, will be dead.
That’s where I give Awake the first of its post-apocalyptic bonus points. I can’t recall any previous book, TV show, or movie where the cause of the apocalypse was simply being unable to fall asleep. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (from 1956 and 1978) is similar, but in that case the characters chose not to fall asleep to avoid being body snatched, it wasn’t that they were physically unable to sleep.
With over a hundred years of modern post-apocalyptic fiction to look back on, being the first to introduce a brand new apocalypse has got to be worth something.
In Awake, one of only two people mentioned who can actually still sleep is Jill’s daughter, Matilda. One of the tropes the film does fall into is the way Matilda becomes a patient zero of sorts, a subject that the authorities are desperate to study to determine what is different about her and if she can facilitate a cure for the insomnia affecting the world.
And also as we’ve seen before, her mother, a former soldier, knows that the authorities are not to be trusted, so she does what she can to keep Matilda away from them.
But again, I can overlook those kinds of things. The story needs a conflict, and a mother trying to protect her child is perfectly reasonable. Especially when that mother knows that she is likely to die in just a few days time.
Another way I think fans of the post-apocalyptic genre will look at Awake differently from a casual viewer is how it describes the sudden collapse of civilization. Twelve hours after the event, college students party all night because they can’t sleep anyway. But within the first 24 hours, religious fervor and mob mentality lead otherwise law-abiding citizens to murder. And just days later we see rampant lawlessness, what look like nude cultists, and road gangs with victims strung up on the side of the road.
The average watcher might look at that and think, that’s dumb, there’s no way things would fall apart that fast. But astute viewers who care about the apocalyptic’ness of the movie will remember that they told us that loss of critical thinking and the onset of hallucinations are appearing at an accelerated pace. So yes, the fact that everyone goes crazy really quickly is sort of a crutch to the plot, to allow events to progress in only a few days, but it’s explained in a way that makes it consistent within the story.
And fans of the genre love to see that kind of thing. When I watch a post-apocalyptic movie I’m constantly evaluating what’s happening and comparing it to how I think people would react and how events would play out in that situation. And if I see something new, like a bunch of naked people staring at a sunrise, then it only adds to the experience, but only if it makes sense in the story’s context. If you think of Awake as an “everyone goes crazy apocalypse” instead of just a “can’t sleep apocalypse”, then it does.
The final act of Awake is nothing particularly special, but it’s still entertaining enough. If you were paying the least bit of attention to events early in the film, you will likely guess why Matilda is the exception to the rule of people not sleeping. And even though the science of it is not explained, there is at least some suspense, and they do keep you guessing right up until the film’s final seconds.
So, is Awake worth watching? For the average viewer, I would still say yes, because you probably have Netflix and it won’t cost you anything more than 97 minutes of your time to watch it.
But if you’re a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre in general, then absolutely set aside some time to give it a try. Is it perfect? No. But it’s also not bad in any way. And the fact that Awake introduces a brand new take on the apocalypse is reason enough for a post-apoc fan to add it to their watch list.
The trailer is below to whet your appetite. And if you’ve already seen it, let us know what you thought of it. Do you think I must have missed a few days sleep to think that it’s actually pretty good? Leave a comment below or stop by our Discord to let me know if you think I’m the crazy one.