Awoken
R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (11th April 2021).
The Film

"Awoken" (2019)

Karla (played by Sara West") is a medical student who is going through some serious emotional difficulties in life. Her brother Blake (played by Benson Jack Anthony) is physically very weak as he has a terminal sleep disorder and is under constant medical attention in the hospital. Their parents have passed away, and are both desperate for something to help them through their ordeals. Their father's old colleague Robert (played by Eric Thomson) is a doctor and professor who decides to help them out through an experimental treatment in a secret underground area on the college campus where others are placed and monitored for their issues with sleep apnea and insomnia. It is there that Karla and other medical students including her friend Alice (played by Amelia Douglass) and her ex Patrick (played by Matt Crook) help with recording the progress of the patients including Blake, but when they find an old box with video recordings previous patients, they find disturbing things that cannot be explained by modern science.

"Awoken" is not afraid to say that the film is about science as well as demonic possession, as the opening text states that it is about fatal familial insomnia (or FFI), a real condition of death by not being able to sleep. In addition, the text explains that ones who are unable to sleep for some time will not need a doctor, but a priest. Sleep or lack of sleep has been explored before in various ways in cinema, from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", "A Nightmare on Elm Street", "The Shining", "Paranormal Activity", and others. Nightmares are universal for any living creature that sleeps, but when sleep itself is not the horror, then therein lies the fear of suddenly not being able to sleep through any standard method. It is entirely possible for humans to stay awake for days and weeks, such as Randy Gardner who stayed awake for 11 days in a monitored experiment. There were side effects to staying awake for an extended period such as memory function, but for his case this was a person trying to stay awake as long as possible, rather than people with a chronic illness not being able to fall asleep even if they tried.

Audiences may not realize the film was shot in Adelaide, South Australia, with an almost entirely Australian cast and crew. The entire cast did an excellent job speaking with generic American accents and there are no markings anywhere to signal that it was made on location in Australia. Also considering that the film was shot on a very small budget, it certainly looks quite good in its design and its cinematography. Director Daniel J. Phillips made a few short films and this is his feature debut, with a script cowritten by playwright and first time screenwriter Alan Grace, which does rely on a few cliches here and there, with jump scares and found footage segments for example. What is slightly creative is the use of the found footage, which is akin to the "Ring" films where the characters find forbidden video footage, rather than having a full film rely on it being shot entirely in the format. What was slightly on the unbelievable side is that the med students find VHS tapes from experiments from 20 years ago, yet the video looks way too sharp for VHS. It is properly set in the 1.33:1 format and there are some faux distortion, but nothing such as tracking errors or NTSC colors, which could have easily been done through various editing filters. It looks much too sharp with not enough "errors" that should be there. In addition, Dr. Robert doesn't look that much younger either in the found footage. As for the script itself, it follows a linear order with the days of the week being placed on screen in title cards for viewers, with the interspersed instances of flashbacks through the old video tapes that the students watch. For a film that deals with demonic possession, the film is actually light on the gore, more focused on the character interactions and the buildup to the suspenseful moments. There is good banter written for the characters and their various relationships, as well as the backstories of Karla's parents and also Robert being revealed slowly. Not to say there aren't any bloody or violent scenes, but the effective jumpy score is able to take care of the terror for the audiences. Not all is perfect either, as there are some issues with plain convenience of the matters the characters face. How easy it was for Robert to bring in a group of young medical students to a very controversial place underground that could easily get him fired and arrested, how the death of one patient should have been treated with much more seriousness, and so forth.

"Awoken" doesn't rewrite anything new for the horror genre, but it is an entertaining and fairly effective indie film that has effective direction and performances from the actors in the limited environment. It's certainly a solid film from a number of first timers, also including cinematographer Michael Tessari in addition to Phillips and Grace among others. The film was screened at various festivals and released on various VOD platforms, and this DVD release from Umbrella Entertainment is the first release of the film on a physical format.

Note this is a region 0 NTSC DVD

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, in the NTSC format. Colors are very important for this film, with the deep blacks seen in the shadows of the underground basement area, the cool blues of the facility with the patients, and other examples, and the DVD transfer does a good job with the color reproduction. Detail is also very strong and there are no errors in the transfer to speak of, featuring a solid picture all around. Though the VHS segments could have been "less perfect" for authenticity, but that is not the fault of the transfer at all.

The film's runtime is 87:47.



















Audio

English Dolby Digital 5.1
The 5.1 track is a fairly active one, with dialogue being centered for the most part, with the surrounds kicking in very loudly for many of the jump scares and score, as well as the echoing demonic voices heard. There are no dropouts or errors to speak of, with a very clear and clean sounding effective audio track for the film.

There are no subtitles offered.

Extras

Unfortunately there are no extras on the disc itself. There is no menu either, with the film starting automatically, and the disc stopping when the film ends.

The trailer, which is not on the disc has been embedded below.

Packaging

The packaging states region 4 only, but is in fact region 0.

Overall

"Awoken" is a fairly effective indie horror dealing with insomnia and demonic possession, which does rely on horror cliches but is still a quite satisfying piece. Umbrella Entertainment's DVD has a great transfer with audio and video but sadly no extras are included.

The DVD is available at various retailers and also from Umbrella Entertainment directly.

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: F Overall: C

 


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