Written and directed by first-timer Joby Harold, Awake examines ‘anaesthetic awareness’, which unaccountably leaves patients fully conscious and physically paralysed during surgery. The grisly real-life phenomenon is explored through the story of patient Clay (Hayden Christiensen) and his fiancée Sam (Jessica Alba). When Clay goes under for a heart transplant he feels, hears and sees things, which lead to some serious long-term implications.
Harold has spun a preposterously entertaining yarn from this germ of an idea, and manages to hold us in a vice-like grip for pretty much the entire film. Awake is so brazenly indifferent to plausibility that you can’t help but admire its audacity. In lesser hands, Awake would have been a tawdry melodrama, but Harold seems to believe in his material so fervently (a more seasoned professional probably wouldn’t) that the film works on several levels at once. Ingenious as it is, it’s not mechanical – it also has an emotional depth to it. Harold brings such energy and focus to the scenes that he transcends the subject matter, giving the film an almost surreal intensity.
Awake is, however, so gruesome that it carries a viewer warning, and for gore fans there are some fine moments of viscera. This is certainly not for the squeamish. Ultimately, the twisty, loopy plot stretches credibility and the film badly lacks a strong climax, but for most of its length Awake has an admirable cult pop vibe going on.
General release from Fri 4 Apr.