Anesthetic Awareness is a phenomenon where a surgical patient is completely aware and able to feel pain while under anesthesia. It occurs in about 5 out of every 1000 patients, with about half of those 5 aware enough to feel excruciating pain. Apparently the condition is not readily noticeable by the surgical team and is only discovered through recounts of the experience after the procedure. Patients are often able to tell doctors details of conversations they had while the patient was supposed to be completely out of it. Sounds like a creepy idea for a thriller, doesn’t it? It sure does.
Clay (Christensen) is a billionaire momma’s boy. Known for his ruthlessness in hostile takeovers and mergers, he’s a man with no heart, at least not a good one. It appears Clay is on the donor recipient list where he has waited for a year, due to his apparently rare O negative blood type. Man, I hope it’s not really that rare. He’s in love with Sam (Alba), his mother’s assistant and he’s afraid to tell Mom (Olin). Finally he’s encouraged by his doctor, Jack (Howard) to live life to the fullest because of the danger his condition poses to him. Clay marries the girl just before the fateful call comes in. They’ve found a heart. Here’s where the film attempts to be very clever but is so painfully predictable. He’s actually aware during the surgery and learns that his surgical team is going to kill him. Too much of the film travels some existential path where Clay roams the hospital while being caught up in his memories. The climax is, again, easy to see coming if you’ve been paying even a little attention.
The problem is that we have a first time director in Joby Harold. The big problem is the lead is played by Hayden Christensen. Christensen is simply a horrible actor. In case the two Star Wars films didn’t convince you of that, Awake only adds to the list of phenomenally bad performances he’s given. Together these two take what should be a hell of a creepy idea and make it a painful experience in itself. Jessica Alba has some skills, but she hasn’t learned how to carry a film on her own just yet. She gets to play a little against type here, and she’s actually pretty good in spots. Her abilities are just not strong enough to overcome just how badly made this film really is. For most of its blissfully short running time, we are forced to watch Christensen try to act his way through a montage of events that often become disjointed and ultimately unnecessary. When Harold does want to drop a clue he does so with tremendous attention, making the information impossible to miss. There’s a lot of “hey look over here” moments that belie the concept of misdirection. The only red herring in this film is in the box art when it uses claims like thriller and suspenseful.
Awake is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There isn’t a whole lot of consistency here. Some of the film appears very soft and undefined while other moments have an almost good layer of detail and sharpness. Perhaps this is one of Harold’s artistic choices. The truth is that it’s just annoying. Black levels are average, and colors for the most part are muted. There is quite a bit of fuzziness and grain that blemish the picture most of its run.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is fine. There’s plenty of dialog, and it gets delivered cleanly. There’s not a lot of imagination shown here. I would think that while Clay was under would have been a marvelous time to use surrounds to enhance the effect, but no one’s looking to do anything remarkable here right down to the sound editor.
There is audio commentary with Joby Harold. It’s clear he doesn’t understand how bad the film really is. It’s no surprise when he raves about such obviously bad acting.
<>Deleted Scenes: There’s 9 minutes of yet more unextraordinary footage here. The only highlight is a scene that better introduces Dr. Lupin dressed as death running down the halls of the hospital. Hey, you do get more Dracula, though.
Under The Knife – Behind The Camera – The Making Of Awake: A long title for a short 13 minute peek behind the scenes. Joby keeps most of the spotlight on himself and regales us with his compelling kidney stone story. Get your 15 minutes now, buddy.
Storyboard to Film Comparison: If you care enough, there’s a dull piece that shows storyboards side by side with some film clips. Whoopee.