“A sick human hunting game for rich people?”
The Running Man this is not, but Edward Furlong from Terminator 2 gets us one degree from Arnie pretty quick in Awaken.
Billie (played by Natalie Burn, Expendables 3) is our badass Linda Hamilton. She finds herself marooned on a mysterious tropical island. Exploring inland, she comes across a group of survivors on the run from some paramilitary goons.
She joins them and they manage to escape into the jungle. Billie soon finds herself in a makeshift village, where the newcomers all have eerily similar stories about how they came to suddenly appear in this “paradise.” These tales involve spiked drinks, hotels and medical tests.
In his book, Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, Dr. Jan Harold Brunvand details “The Kidney Theft,” a creepy narrative in which a man meets a woman in a bar, and after several drinks, takes her back to his hotel. He then wakes up with a splitting headache and fresh stitches in his side. Organ theft is a great horror film premise and Awaken combines the urban myth with the very real and ugly realities of the prisoner organ trade (The New York Post recently ran a story about imprisoned Chinese political dissidents).
Daryl Hannah is Mao, a limousine liberal for whom organ transplant waiting lists are unnecessary red tape. Her sick daughter needs a liver post haste and Mao vets living, unwitting donors on video with blarney Eastern philosophies (what about her qi? Forget the qi, make sure they’re a tissue match!) and assorted nitpicking (Do you see a 1000 mile stare?!). Who’d be that picky? But hey, the customer is always right, even when they’re buying from organ harvesters.
Awaken, AKA, A Perfect Vacation runs with the transplant metaphor — vacationers uprooted from all over Latin America and dumped on an island. Four islanders at one point fashion a raft and paddle to a neighbouring island in hopes of escape, only to be dumped right back to where they started from, a kind of Robinson Crusoe Groundhog Day. But they’re not being hunted for sport. They’re biomedical product, and demand has outstripped supply.
The narrative unspools slowly, with islanders facing a Kafkaesque fate and the viewer kept in the dark amidst all that tropical sun as to why they’re all in this predicament (this is probably the most beautiful horror film since Turistas).
Billie becomes the survivors’ co de facto leader. Her backstory is not unlike UFC fighter Rhonda Rousey’s: a toughness that belies obvious sex appeal and brought up by a taskmaster judoka parent. Flashbacks show her father putting her through ring drills, shadow boxing and even choking her out so when it comes time to kick some ass against the likes of the paramilitary prison guards (which includes the singularly sadistic Vinnie Jones) — she’s more than up to the task.
Awaken is marred by an absence of a phonecall to the proper authorities, heroism trumping the instinct for self-preservation, too much gunplay and a few silly twists; but there’s just enough going on that we can’t simply reject this organ transplant thriller. Buoyed by some solid performances, Awaken is part horror, part action but without a firm enough grounding in either to wholly endorse.
Strangely compelling, it takes a while to get moving, mimicking the time it would take to get your bearings if you were drugged and ended up somewhere unintended.
*** (out of 5)
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