Demonic Awoken (2019) Drums Up Nightmarish Scenarios for Sleep Disorder Sufferers
First Wide Release: December 20, 2019 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Daniel J. Phillips
Writer: Alan Grace and Daniel J. Phillips
Runtime: 88 Minutes
Starring: Sara West, Erik Thomson, Benson Jack Anthony
Where to Watch: $6.99 on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Apple
KJ’s brother Blake suffers from Fatal Familial Insomnia, the same sleep disorder that took her mother’s life and indirectly, her father’s. Using her access as a medical student, KJ secretly enrolls Blake into her professor’s lab where sleep studies are conducted on patients with more obscure ailments. Soon enough, KJ, the professor, and others on the team realize that there might be something more sinister antagonizing Blake’s perpetual insomnia. Awoken is Australian film director, Daniel J. Phillip's, first feature-length film and debut.
I appreciated Awoken’s interesting take on both demons and sleep disorders. It might be my undergraduate background in neuroscience talking here, but sleep disorders are absolutely terrifying. Awoken did an exceptional job of separating the ailment from the horror of the story, which is critical to avoiding the literal demonization of people suffering from psychological disorders. In Awoken, the disease is used as something to exploit by the evil in the story, not something evil in itself. Additionally, the lore behind the demonic possession was unusually well-thought-out and different than similar films. It was refreshing to get a new villain to root against than the standard demons we often see in these films.
Most everyone in Awoken gives solid performances. Matt Crook plays Patrick particularly well. I found that his character feels the most real out of everyone in the production, which is a shame given what his screen time ultimately amounts to in the end. KJ is easy to root for: her motivations are strong and feel genuine, there is a lot of internal conflict in her life, and no matter how hard she pushes others away, she does so with fair intentions. My biggest gripe is that I wish Benson Jack Anthony’s character Blake was developed more, as he is mostly used as a plot device rather than a real person. Anthony did a solid job, however, in making his plight sympathetic.
Awoken has a great aesthetic to it. Overall, the shots are good and make great use of the primarily single location set utilized throughout filming. The design of the hospital basement is just clinical enough to feel real while still evoking a dark and creepy ambiance necessary to complement to the slow-burn dread of the film. It feels like a real place you could stumble upon if you got lost enough in a university hospital. The final confrontation is a visual treat in terms of set design, where several fun and thrilling sequences play out, using the space and scenery adeptly, throughout the gleefully dark and sinister conclusion. My favorite shot from Awoken is a disorienting eye spiral at the very end of the film that definitely stuck with me after my viewing. Awoken is a fully realized visual experience thanks to good design and cinematography.
The technical aspects of Awoken are mostly hit or miss. The demonic effects are deceptively good for the film’s budget, disregarding a few frames of a demonic cloud/mist at the end. Other than that, I felt that Awoken made great use of its practical effects. The editing made it seem like time was passing a lot quicker than it felt. Oftentimes, this made the story jarring and a bit more laborious to think through than it should have been. Awoken also regularly commits the horror movie sin of overusing sound as a cue for scares. It felt like my hand was being held through every sequence and the director was cueing the exact moment I needed to jump. I would have found Awoken scarier if that tactic was used less.
Director Daniel J. Phillips shows great promise in horror with his Awoken debut. Phillips did an exceptional job maintaining a dark and sinister tone throughout the picture and building up tension throughout the film. Echoing some of my earlier complaints about the timeline, KJ’s own sleep deprivation sub-plot was introduced without much thought and always felt like an afterthought. Had Phillips devoted a few more minutes to her character arc, it would have made all the difference in the end. Overall, Awoken is a breath of fresh air in the done-to-death subgenre of possession films that litter streaming sites across the net.
Awoken is an entertaining tale of science and demons that rises above most contemporary efforts. I have seen over 20 similarly themed films this year so far and Awoken is easily in the top three or four. What it may lack in substance, Awoken makes up for in style and intensity. I would recommend Awoken to anyone that enjoys possession films or anything based in the supernatural. It isn’t going to make any of my top lists this year, but it is definitely worth a watch if you have the time and desire. Awoken probably won’t give you nightmares, but it will possess your attention just long enough that it just might get away with it anyway.
Overall Score? 6.5/10