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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 1 out of 5

EVERY year, 21 million people go under anaesthesia (for medical operations) but one in 700 remain awake the entire time. This alarming statistic forms the basis for Joby Harold’s new thriller Awake, but while the premise offers bucket-loads of potential, the film fails to operate convincingly on any level and could well leave viewers comatose with boredom.

Rich businessman Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen) requires a heart transplant and, at the request of best friend and surgeon Dr Jack Harper (Terrence Howard), rushes to get his affairs in order, which means marrying his girlfriend (Jessica Alba) to the dismay of his over-protective mother (Lena Olin).

Hours after they’ve tied the knot, a heart becomes available and Beresford is prepared for surgery. Once anaesthetised, however, he’s alarmed to find himself still fully conscious and aware of everything going on around him – including his own murder…

According to research, a patient who experiences anesthesia awareness may feel the pain or pressure of surgery, hear conversations, or feel as if they cannot breathe. But, in most cases, they will be unable to communicate any distress because they have been given a paralytic or muscle relaxant.

The film’s director says he was inspired to explore this concept after being treated for a kidney stone, during which the pain became so excruciating that his mind began to wander to other things.

Audiences may experience a similar reaction, for having been enticed by such a promising scenario, the painful realisation that this thriller simply doesn’t work may quickly leave them pondering how it went so wrong and desperate to get away.

For starters, Harold fails to provide us with a central character worth caring about, while some of his twists are too well signposted. His decision to take things into a metaphysical dimension late on also backfires, making the conclusion laughably inept.

But most disappointingly, very little attempt is made to explore the medical statistic underpinning the story, or its real-life repercussions (such as post-traumatic stress), which would arguably have made for a better experience.

Performance-wise, Christensen fails to convey the true horror of his situation (his commentary proving woefully mundane), while the likes of Alba and Olin go through the motions as the clock ticks down to the inevitable revelations. Only Howard brings any semblance of charisma, his troubled doc offering the only real moral complexity on show.

But the buck ultimately stops with Harold whose misguided handling of such promising material suggests he may require some urgent medical attention on his own fledgling career – to prevent it from going flat-line.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 85mins
UK DVD Release: August 25, 2008

  1. Dear Sir/Madam,

    I am a consultant anaesthetist in the UK and feel I have to comment on this article. The statistics quoted are wholly untrue, unfounded and misleading to the public. Although anaesthetic awareness does occur and can be a terrifying experience for the patients involved, it certainly does not occur as frequently as 1 in 700. The majority of patients who experience awareness during surgery usually have very brief moments of recall, often painless. The incidence of true awareness with explicit recall has been studied extensively. An article published recently in the American Journal Anesthesiology quotes the incidence as 1 in 14,000 patients. Some believe the figure to be even less. So, not as frightening as 1 in 700 quoted by the makers of “Awake”, but I guess they need to sell the film! Modern anaesthesia is extremely safe and with the development of techniques to monitor the depth of anaesthesia the risk of awareness can be reduced further. I think the public should be reassured that the chance of them experiencing any form of intraoperative recall is remote.

    Dr Michael Leonides    Sep 11    #