Dr Jack Harper (Terrence Howard) is feeling pretty down, because today he was performing heart surgery on a good friend of his but tragically he died on the operating table. He wonders if as he slipped away he was thinking of his girlfriend Samantha Lockwood (Jessica Alba), for they were engaged, unbeknownst to his mother (Lena Olin) for fear of incurring her wrath for a relationship with a poor woman. Jack's friend was Clayton Beresford (Hayden Christensen), and he was the millionaire heir to a successful business about to clinch a huge deal with the Japanese... he had so much to live for.
The idea that you can be paralysed yet conscious is one which echoes down horror fiction, from Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King among many others, but in films it hasn't had much of a workout, the most famous example possibly being Roger Corman's adaptation of Poe's The Premature Burial. When the concept was updated to the noughties, Mr Anakin Skywalker himself was recruited to take the role of the unfortunate soul who suffers this painful indignity, which even if you didn't know was about to happen a good half hour into the plot your suspicions would be raised by the opening captions which proffer made up statistics about how many patients suffer it every year.
Seriously, if thirty thousand people were afflicted with that a year as this tells you, it would be a worldwide scandal suggesting we had barely moved on from the surgeries of the Victorian era, but as it is spells an early indication that things are going to go over the top in this movie sometime soon. Which would be quite entertaining in a crazed kind of way, but you reckon without the premise being able to fit barely fifteen minutes of screen time, so the rest is sluggishly dragged out to under ninety, fairly short by feature standards of its day but you can feel not only every slice of the scalpel, but the seconds gradually ticking by as boredom took inexorable hold. When so much was riding on that central notion, more was needed.
Needed to bolster what in the television adaptation of King's variation on the tale lasted half the time, and even that was no classic, so you can imagine how with its cardboard characters and aims towards the classy thriller market Awake became a chore, especially in that opening third where we grindingly go through the motions of setting up the twists of the next two. It wasn't the cast's fault, there were some decent actors here and if Alba was not renowned for her thespian talents nevertheless she was a professional and her character's revelation should have made her more interesting when more likely it would have you rolling your eyes. Actually, the most common accusation about this was that it was so bad it was funny.
Yet even if you're the sort of person who loves to chortle along at a bad movie, you'd have your work cut out sustaining that laughter here as it was so weighted down with its sense of importance that it really wasn't much fun as a laff riot or an edge of the seat, borderline horror yarn. That big twist was so ridiculous that it scuppered any seriousness writer and director Joby Harold laid claim to, it was simply unbelievable that so many people in the medical profession could be so reckless. Then when the suspense goes for the next step up with an unexpected crisis, the idea that anybody involved in this film had experience of ever being in a hospital, whether as patient or visitor, begins to look slim to nonexistent. Add in Clay wandering the corridors and piecing together the mystery which led him to this situation, occasionally silent screaming for effect, and the prognosis was not good, to use the kind of punning cliché you be itching to employ after seeing this. Music by Samuel Sim with "themes" by Graeme Revell.