I gotta say that I was pleasantly surprised by Awoken. I had prejudiced this Horror, Mystery, Thriller on face value because of its quiet film release here in Australia where it premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival and has been subjected to the Straight to Home Entertainment release.
This is an unfair judgement on my behalf though, as Awoken is one of those admittedly middle-of-the-road movies, but it does just enough to keep you hooked and entertained to its conclusion, which is a testament to Director Daniel J. Phillips and his writing partner Alan Grace.
Phillips chooses to keep his setting simple, predominately in one location and in doing so, can heighten the tension surrounding his key players, whilst keeping the budget low.
HIs storytelling is also strong, flicking from past and present with the use of old medical tapes that the research team slowly trickle through to gain an understanding of what they are up against.
And the choice of subject matter in Fatal Familial Insomnia is also one that sparks the imagination of terror in us all as this disorder affects the thalamus, part of the brain structure that controls our emotional expression and can lead to lack of sleep and dementia.
With a select group of subjects, a small medical team, led by leading doctor, Robert (Erik Thomsen), go all flatliners and try to do some underground research in literally an underground laboratory in the hopes of finding a cure or a breakthrough to help those suffering from this condition. Robert has had previous experience in conducting similar experiments and serves as the chief advisor and patriarchal figure of the group.
Our lead protagonist, Karla (Sara West – Ash Vs Evil Dead) is one of these medical students, who’s brother Blake (Benson Jack Anthony – Cleverman) suffers from the genetic insomnia condition and is subjected to this observation trial. The clue here is in the genetics component as it its revealed that their mother also had the same condition and was subjected to similar medical trials.
It is through their studies though that things begin to escalate. Cut off from the world above and incredibly sleep deprived, both patients and medics alike begin to hallucinate.
Is this the instabilities of the mind though? Or is there demonic possession at play?
Awoken doesn’t break new ground in the realms of science vs religion and suspected demonic possession, but what it does do well is construct a tight knit, well crafted storyline that drip feeds the tension whilst building up the paranoia and uncertainty of reality.
Some of the effects are a bit tried and tested, falling into the fairly predictable terrain, but Director Daniel J. Phillips has carefully positioned the audience into a false sense of security and then dialling up the entertainment level, whilst spinning a strong thriller that poses all the right questions towards a highly amped ending.
Surprisingly good and well worth checking out.
- Saul Muerte
Awoken is currently streaming on Shudder ANZ