Screener Review: AWAKEN (2015)


REVIEW:

Seldom do I have the chance to see survival thrillers and I always welcome them as part of my film enjoyment, especially if the trailer convinces me enough. Certainly, it has done so with the presence of actress, writer and producer Natalie Burn who puts every piece of herself into her latest role in Mark Atkins' new film, Awaken, which already has just under a dozen wins and one nomination stemming from its film festival run in the past several months.

The film sets our leading lady in the role of Billie Kope, alone on a quiet beach front on a remote island far from civilization. Briefly disoriented and her clothes mildly disheveled, she wakes up and emerges into the jungle wilderness only to find herself accompanied by seven other strangers being chased by men in camouflage. Soon it becomes clear that this is no island paradise as Kope acquaints herself with her fellow island dwellers as they desperately try to figure out who is holding them against their will, and why. However, Kope has a few ideas of her own as she's been searching for her missing sister for five years, and the harder she fights for freedom, the closer she gets to the answers she seeks along with the gruesome nature of her captors' true intentions.

Writer and director Atkins spearheads this latest feature from Burn's own film banner, 7Heaven Productions, which also brings together a few other well known antagonists, like actor Jason London who plays Rich, a corrupt doctor whose shady specialty is what drives the very motive of our heroine's personal mission, as well as her own survival and that of her crew. Vinnie Jones portrays, Sarge, the pointman of his own small squadron of jungle commandos in charge of rounding up one survivor at a time at any given point at Rich's behest, while actress Daryl Hannah offers her portrayal of Mao, something of an otherwise rich and powerful crimeboss who arrives to Rich's island headquarters grieving and desperate to cure her ailing daughter.

On the other side, our principle island survivors don't stand out much with the exception of actor Michael Copon in the role of Nick, along with Daz Crawford as Stitch, a would-be British SAS soldier, and actor Phillip Tan who doesn't always get a lot of screen time in films but always manages to make it work, and here just as so in the small role of Todd whilst serving as the film's fight coordinator. Actor Edward Furlong sort of disappears halfway in the film, but not before throwing in a few much-needed comedic gems as former Mexican prison inmate, Berto, who is always ready to make friends, especially if they're gorgeous women, and veteran thesp Robert Davi gives us one of the film's few pivotal performances as the grisled and withered leader of the tribe, Quentin. Other notable performances come courtesy of actors David Keith, Michael Paré and actress Christa Campbell who plays Rina, Rich's right hand woman.

To be forthright, the story is well-paced between much of the action, harrowing high-seas danger and some of the more gory macabre imagery toward the end. More prevalent beyond this point, however, is the drama and upheaval between our antagonists and a few other characters that come with shades of grey to make the plot more interesting; London gives one of the film's strongest and memorable performances along with Davi, Hannah, Paré in his limited screentime, and even Jones whose appearance does plenty of justice for fans delighted by his usual cockney dialect and salty, seasoned look.

At the heart of it all, collectively, the film opens plenty of doors for Burn to showcase her acting skills in accordance with her own physical traning and prowess. Her evolution throughout the story is almost entirely well-balanced between the action, drama and even a bit of the small romantic subtext she shares with Copon from time to time. As for the action, the fights are few and far between but when they occur, Burn shines brightly. Exchanges between knives, fisticuffs and full-out brawling outline much of the choreography and Burn delightfully fits right in, and much to her credit with various flashback sequences featuring Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, that help originate her character's skills.

Just a few of the film's scenes midway throughout do get a little taut and contrived after a while, which is imaginable for a film that often stays contained mostly in one setting. Other than that, Awaken presents a workable story that provides an enjoyable feature-length run for an audience more keen nowadays on action movies drawn toward strong female roles.

The film is easily an introduction for many not too familiar with Burn until now, though those with a good eye may have quickly spotted her on the big screen in last year's The Expendables 3. It was my foray into Burn's filmic skillset in addition to her musicianship as she also sings for the film's soundtrack. Conclusively, Burn is the whole package here, and I personally hope that with Awaken and the momentum she gathers from the film's warm festival reception, that it lands her bigger roles in the near future.

Arc Entertainment is releasing Awaken in the U.S. on DVD July 7.

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