Reviewed by Laura Gonzales
Awakening (2014). USA, 44 minutes. Directed by Evie Marie Warner. Starring: Ali Ferda, Titus Young Wolverton, John Bradley Hembrick, and JoAnna Lloyd.
Awakening illustrates Evie Marie Waner’s creative layering of spirituality and suspense, depicting the story of Amy Devlin (Ali Ferda), a woman who relies on her faith to both identify and redeem a kidnapper and murderer (John Bradley Hembrick), who is targeting students in her town.
The film opens with Amy maneuvering through the woods after shooting and killing Willy Hughes, one of two men who kidnapped Amy and her best friend Valery Hart (Madison Hart). After escaping the woods, Amy returns home plagued with amnesia, unable to remember her kidnapper or Valery’s murderer. The plot thickens as Amy is haunted by dreams and memories of her kidnapping, swinging back and forth between reality, spiritual appearances, and terrifying nightmares.
There is certainly an admirable, positive message offered in Awakening. Amy holds on to her values and faith to get her through amnesia, and to help her find peace as she faces her complicated memories. While I enjoyed the positivity presented by the film, I had a difficult time following certain aspects of the plot. There is a complex storyline that creatively plays with notions of time and spirituality. However, budget limitations are evident in the effects of the film, which make it difficult to distinguish when and how the characters are moving between time and dimensions.
For example, certain elements of the film, including the sound, makeup, and lighting, made it difficult to get immersed in what was happening on screen, and to distinguish between scenes set in the present and those set in dreams. In the opening scene, when Amy is running through the woods with blood running down her face, the intense dripping of the blood appeared unrealistic, and was consequently distracting to this viewer. There were also seemingly small but overall significant issues with sound throughout the film, particularly when agent Jenson is questioning Amy about her kidnapping. As Jenson and Amy sit on a park bench, their voices are barely audible above the chirping birds in the surrounding area. Small instances like these are minimal, but hindered my enjoyment of the film. This is certainly common for micro-budget films like Awakening that are developed through the hard work of a crew navigating very strict financial restrictions. In the future, if this team continues to work together, I am certain they will be able to continue improving these effects to more clearly articulate their ideas.
While I appreciate Warner’s message to trust in spirituality and faith, I do wish some of the perceived logic in the film relied on the knowledge and thinking of female characters. The men in Awakening, including agent Jensen, Willy Hughes, and Lucas, are both the attackers and the saviors, clearly controlling the actions of female characters. At times, I wondered why Amy relied so heavily on the advice of the men around her, rather than taking the advice of female characters like her roommate, who are clearly looking out for Amy’s best interests. While there is a clear push in the film’s message to rely on the value of spirituality, seeing some of these positive qualities in the female characters as well would have made the film more powerful for this reviewer, at least.
Collectively, the various suspenseful and spiritual elements in Awakening are interesting and creative and open up a space to combine spiritual and suspenseful genres in future films. The contrast between the genres is captivating, and the spiritual message portrayed by Warner is empowering. However, some of the technical details in the film could be further developed, as could the gender contrasts in the characters and their roles. I certainly enjoyed the creativity and complex ideas illustrated through Awakening, and I look forward to seeing these elements continue coming together in future projects.