Awaken is a fantastic example of the idea that less is more. The film has a great deal going for it: an intriguing story, a rather noteworthy cast, and a strong leading actress, among other things. But at what point do filmmakers decide to say, “when”? Each of the film’s strengths I have listed end up overflowing, causing a rather disappointing mess that could have been avoided with just a little less of everything. Beginning with the interesting concept, the basic plot is as follows: Billie Kope (Natalie Burn) wakes up on an island with no recollection of how she got there. Upon further exploration, she meets a group of people who are being hunted by military personnel for an unknown reason. Once they regroup, she learns that each individual of the group similarly woke up on the island without recollection of getting there. The plot thickens when we learn that they have been carefully selected by their rare blood type and brought to the island as “donors” for clients who are willing to pay top dollar to harvest needed organs for either themselves or their loved ones.
While the idea of “strangers mysteriously appearing somewhere” is a frequently used plot device, I think the initial intervention of harvesting the organs was unique enough to carry the film where it needed to go. However, the writers did not. Instead, they introduce a parallel plotline for Billie’s character. She ends up on the island while following clues, leading to her long-lost sister. Ultimately this plotline was rather weak, and when combined with the more intriguing story, it feels as if it were an awkward juggling act. This hurt the climax of the film, as the falling action involved an underdeveloped bond between Billie and her sister. I appreciate the eagerness to bring more originality into the aforementioned “strangers” formula, but much of the additional plotline didn’t blend well with the initial intriguing concept.
Next we have the interesting casting choices. Natalie Burn (who starred and had a hand in writing) also acted as the film’s casting director. By and large the casting is fantastic. Vinnie Jones (of Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels fame) plays Sarge, the sadistic military officer charged with hunting the donors down. Robert Davi (Die Hard, License to Kill) takes up the role of Quentin, who acts as a “leader” to the donors. Each of these casting choices was well made, and each actor fit the part.
In contrast, two roles are questionable. The lovely Daryl Hannah plays Mao, a rich client who has requested a donor for her ailing daughter, and Edward Furlong is Berto, one of the donors. While Daryl Hannah’s character holds significance to the plot, this choice largely feels as if they were hoping to raise interest with star power. I feel this is also true of Edward Furlong. Berto is a rather insignificant character, so it is strange to see Furlong in a forgettable role when he has recently been starring in independent features.
Again, these two choices make the film feel as if it overflows, given the strength of the rest of the cast, especially given Natalie Burn’s great performance: stunts and all (especially the stunts). Overall, the film has a certain charm to it, though I grew up watching the “SciFi Originals” every weekend (even before they changed to Syfy). While the film carries that SciFi channel aesthetic, it had a lot of fantastic and original content. However, this content became overbearing with the amount of unnecessary elements that were added.
Perhaps my favorite part of the film was Natalie Burn’s performance. Looking at her upcoming projects on her IMDb page, I’m rather excited to see her in a lot more films. Plus, Awaken is a rather large résumé builder for her career, as she is credited with acting, casting, writing, and even performing the film’s score. I am looking forward to watching her refine her talents as her career continues. She may not have been top-billed in Awaken, but she certainly played the leading role as if she were. Unfortunately, the film’s entirety was not carried on the strength of her acting.