Somewhere in the middle of your film watching lifetime, you become very jaded. There becomes fewer things you have never seen before and you watch the best stories get recycled again and again. It can be rather depressing. You turn on a film and immediately start figuring out where the story is going and you attempt to differentiate the stealthy antagonist from all of the red herrings. When you get the details right you’re disappointed because you feel cheated by inferior storytelling.
Upon reading the synopsis for Awaken, it’s easy to assume it’s a standard retread, take a story that’s worked before, make it slightly different, and hope the audience likes the characters enough to pretend they haven’t seen this all before. I was positive when I hit play, I would be watching some version of The Most Dangerous Game. When you read about woman who wakes up on an island and is being watched by a group of militants slowly hunting down those imprisoned there, it’s easy to believe you’re watching something completely unoriginal and possibly more terrifying; uninspired.
The opening shot is of star Natalie Burn, waking up on the beach with no explanation as to why she’s there. A stunning shot expanding on the beautiful locale while simultaneously giving the indication things are not as beautiful as it would lead you to believe. It’s very reminiscent of the opening scene in Lost with equally stunning cinematography, but furthering the idea this was not something new.
What happens from that opening sequence shuts the door on all of those preconceived notions.
While there are many similarities to both of the aforementioned productions, the story that unfolds is something worthwhile and I think there might just be a few things you don’t see coming.
What allows this film to work is the deviation from expectations. Burn’s character Billie has a mysterious back story, shown in flashbacks. You can certainly assume this is what leads her to the island (you would be right), but it isn’t for the reason you would expect. Your assumption is Billie is there for the same reason all the others living in tropical captivity (you would be wrong), you assume her imprisonment is calculated and purposeful (you’d be mostly wrong). By the time you can guess where it is headed (at least for me anyway) there is only about 15 minutes left in the film before you reach the “aha moment”, and ultimately, it doesn’t take the exact path you were expecting. To be able to keep a viewer guessing for roughly 85% of your film should be considered a victory for the filmmakers; after all even if you know the outcome at that point, who walks away from something so close to the end?
Now I’m being intentionally vague with plot points here because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but as this deserted island genre has been beaten to death over the years (Gilligan’s Island, Lord of the Flies, Cast Away, etc.), Awaken drifts just far enough from the standard tropes to distinguish itself. Unlike most of it’s predecessors, the film doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing the obvious and more typical infatuations of the genre such as “How do we get out of here?” and characters and relationships drive the plot more than action.
Without giving away the twists and turns of the film, much conversation on the plot itself is hard to have. You will still find a lot of things you have seen before and some of the scenes aren’t as polished as others, but overall Awaken was much more fun than expected. A quality cast including some familiar faces (Edward Furlong, Daryl Hannah, Vinnie Jones), an engrossing story, and solid filmmaking merit watching this one.