Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review: AWAKEN (2015) [Joe's Take]

The Premise
A beautiful woman awakens (thus the title) on a tropical island only to discover that its inhabitants are being hunted by organ traders!

Story Arc
The story arc of Awaken is dreamlike. You’re on an island with survivors, Edward Furlong is there! And then you’re in a boat, and someone’s telling you they’re a chef, then you’re in a mansion, and you have a cry with Darryl Hannah, and then you wake up.

Except that Awaken is unintentionally dreamlike, because it's really just a terrible movie. It is, however, terrible for a good reason: the star of the film, Natalie Burn (playing Billie Kope), wanted to star in an action film. But there were no roles. So, she wrote and produced her own!

So, behind this tale of tropical organ harvesting is the feel-good story of an enterprising young woman. But within Awaken, there is no feel good. As mentioned, there is Edward Furlong. This is what he looks like now:

The hardest part of writing about Awaken is not diving into the “What the FUCK happened to Edward Furlong?!” rabbit hole. I’ve written and deleted like 1,000 words of content, but the problem is, nothing that has happened to Edward Furlong is hella funny. Except The Crow movie he starred in:

The fact that he was The Crow is funny. Also funny is the fact that someone identified his character in Awaken, Berto, as a prime candidate for organ theft. That’s right, in Awaken, someone wants to steal Edward Furlong’s liver.

But you have to stop thinking about that, because while it seems like a joke gold mine, you’ll quickly find that like the third Edward Furlong joke is just mean.

One other thing about Edward Furlong, though! Halfway through the movie he just disappears. Let me back up a little. Tough girl Billie Kope awakens on an island, and there is a group of six survivors who are trying to get by, despite the fact that commandos keep abducting them and stealing their kidneys. One of the survivors dies by tripping and falling within the first five minutes (for those keeping track, people also died by tripping to death in Bound to Vengeance, Exeter, The Chosen, and now Awaken). Another gets abducted and they take her organs.

Two of the survivors, Berto (Edward Furlong) and Chloe, just disappear from the film about 45 minutes in. So not only is it amazing that Edward Furlong is in the film, it’s also kind of amazing that suddenly he isn’t, and he never gets killed. How do you forget to kill Edward Furlong?

Speaking of disappearing characters, the leader of the survivors is Quentin, played by Robert Davi. You know that someone in the group of survivors is going to be a plant, and you find out it’s him! And when you find out it’s him, he says: “Good luck!  Ha HA! I’m getting out of here. Sayonara!”

And then you know what happens? In like 95% of similar films he immediately gets killed by a snake or a booby trap, but in Awaken, he actually leaves! He’s just gone! He says ‘Goodbye’ and leaves.


These things all indicate that the creator of Awaken isn’t super imaginative. Another thing that drives this idea home is Billie Kope’s backstory. She’s tough, and she can fight dudes. But what’s her deal? Why is she such a badass? Well, she took boxing lessons from her dad, and he was pretty tough about this. He even chokes her out in one scene and is like “I did that so you wouldn’t be afraid of being choked out.” But, I think getting choked out actually makes people more afraid of it. Also, he looks like Edward Furlong’s liver, if it got set on fire.

There’s also a splits scene during these training flashbacks, but in the pantheon of elaborate splits, these don’t register. This is similar to the Van Damme split episodes from Kickboxer and Bloodsport, but those were WAY more over the top, and they were in the 80s! Awaken sets elaborately staged splits routines back at least 40 years.

Darryl Hannah plays the sinister gangster Mao, who has come to the island in search of a new liver for her sick daughter. Mao broadcasts menace, but there’s a scene where she kneels down to tell her daughter that everything will be okay, and it’s like a light breaks through the clouds, and you’re like “Holy shit! Acting! That’s acting!”

Questions for Paul:
1. Where did Edward Furlong and the girl who lost an ear go? What were their lives like after the events depicted in Awaken?

PH:  I know, right?  It's a comfort to think that Furlong and the girl are somewhere on a tropical island, growing their crops and weaving their baskets unimpaired by abductors.  Maybe every now and again, after a meal of sweet fruits and "pure island drinking water," gazing into the night sky and holding each other in one another's arms, they might get wispy-eyed, thinking of all they have left behind: their dreams, their aspirations, one of their ears.  But then they notice the moon glinting off the tropical water and they hug one another's skin-encased perfect organs a little tighter, easing into a blissful sleep.  It may be essentially a lifetime of rehab, but Furlong wouldn't trade it for a girl with two ears.

2. Was it called "Awaken" just because she woke up on the beach twice? What do you think were some other title options?

PH:  According to its IMDB page (which was also apparently written by Natalie Burn--she does everything!), it was originally titled "A Perfect Vacation," and its UK DVD title is "Left to Die."  I can't tell you which of these is the worst, since there is neither a vacation nor is anyone left to die.  Except maybe Edward Furlong and the girl with one ear, but, but, but. . . that would ruin my elaborately plotted dream of their survival, of their, dare I say, PERFECT VACATION.

3. Why didn’t Mao shoot Billie?

PH:  Yeah, that ending was really very similar to another Daryl Hannah film, Blade Runner.  In that film, the replicant at the end has the opportunity to kill Harrison Ford but chooses not to because, at the end of his own life, he discovers that all life is precious and paradoxically reveals his own humanity.  Could something similar be happening here?

Mao doesn't shoot Billie because, at the end, she realizes that all organs are precious, even the ones that she wanted to put into her now-deceased daughter, paradoxically revealing a capability for reason that is largely absent elsewhere in the film.   It turns everything around and makes us think: why did she want to shoot Billie in the first place?  And then you realize: there was no reason!  None at all!  But with her not shooting Billie, the absurdity ends and everyone can have organs and reason and "pure island drinking water."

4. Who would want to buy Edward Furlong’s kidney?

PH:  So I typed "Edward Furlong's kidney" into ebay just to see what it was going for, but no dice.  Instead, I found something way more valuable:  a Japanese-release spoken word CD he made in 1993 called "The Happy Prince and My Grandfather's Favorite Poems."  It's $8.99.

A little more poking around the Furlong-shaped hole called the internet, and I found the audio.  If you like having fun at Edward Furlong's expense, don't press play.  Why not?  Because this takes you back there.  To 1993.  To teenage Japanese heartthrob 1993.  It makes you fall in love with Edward all over again.  

So to answer your question about who would want Edward Furlong's liver: the Japanese.  If they wanted to listen to him read his grandfather's poems, then they may want to feel him de-toxify their blood.  You can practically hear the de-toxification in his fraying, earnest, voice.  It's "pure island drinking water" for the soul.

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