A thriller with “realistic” zombies is the smart premise behind “Awake.” If you want to see human beings turn into the walking dead, take away their sleep.
Exhaustion heaped on top of panic, the shakes, impaired judgment teetering into psychosis, accidents, the works — Who needs “BRAINS! Must have BRAINS?”
That promising premise turns into a sluggish, sleepwalk of a thriller with a little pathos but entirely too little urgency to pull us in.
Gina Rodriguez stars as an already sleep-deprived ex-junkie, a widow and military vet working night security at a hospital where she steals drugs — sleeping pills, etc. — for re-sale. Jill has lost custody of her kids to her disapproving mother-in-law (Frances Fisher) when “the event” happens.
In a flash, electronic devices fail, the grid collapses and everything “with chips in it” quits — jetliners to Jeeps.
Jill grabs ten-year-old Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) and teen Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and takes off, but not before noticing that Matilda — unlike everybody else — is able to grab a little shut-eye. And not before figuring out that the “military” she used to work for, including the sleep-deprivation torture expert psychotherapist Dr. Murphy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), want Matilda to “study” so that they can find a cure.
The family’s odyssey takes them through a zombieland of murderous but “old car expert” (the only ones that’ll run) rednecks and marauding bands of goons, of mass prison escapes and elderly nudists staggering towards the sun.
But like zombies in every other movie about the dead-on-their-feet, “Awake” lurches along, an intense moment here, a long, dull and static pause that drains the narrative of urgency and kills the quest’s momentum there.
Barry Pepper impresses as a preacher whose flock goes “SACRIFICE her!” entirely too-quickly, weeping “This is not who we are!” after a more-trigger-happy-than-usual cop shoots somebody. Maybe this is “who we are?”
Finn Jones plays a scientist who hastily explains the pathology of sleep deprivation, what the body and mind go through before lack of sleep kills you.
And Shamier Anderson makes an empathetic ex-con one of the more interesting characters they stumble into on their journey.
Rodriguez has to carry the picture, but hamstrung by the “reality” of the role, she only plays two notes — exhausted and manic.
The cleverest thing here is the initial conceit, that mass sleeplessness is the REAL “Night of the Living Dead.” And the dumbest has to be Jill’s sudden, poor-decision-making driven efforts to teach her ten year-old everything she needs to survive for the rest of her life, as the rest of humanity may very well go extinct — how to use a library without computers, shooting, driving, siphoning gas, etc.
Rodriguez shows us little in those scenes or this role, because no one involved realized that sleepwalking through a performance is the worst way to win over your audience.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, violence, animal medical experiments, profanity
Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Ariana Greenblatt, Lucius Hoyos, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Frances Fisher, Finn Jones, Gil Bellows and Barry Pepper.
Credits: Directed by MarckRasso, script by Joseph Rasso and Mark Rosso. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:37