In a strange type of hotel-come-hospital, a care worker carefully wanders the corridors to check on each patient to make sure they are ready for the new day in Gabriel Caste’s psychological thriller Are You Awake?
Every so often Hollywood will find a new director whose film becomes such a huge critical and commercial success that they become impossible to ignore; this director is then lauded by everyone and immediately crowned the new king of whichever genre their movie was pigeon-holed in. Over the past few years, the holder of this latest crown has been Jordan Peele, no other horror film in the past decade has come close in terms of amassing both critical and popular appeal than Peele’s debut Get Out. His film Us came close to repeating the success, while his recent third entitled Nope has only just been released but has already garnered a mass of critical acclaim.
Gabriel Caste is a Cuban American director, writer, producer, editor, and VFX artist. He is a seasoned filmmaker who has worked with a number of big names and had a hand in a lot of great projects. His new short film, Are You Awake? which he also wrote, has been hugely influenced by the work of Jordan Peele.
Are You Awake? is a fascinating film that takes a page out of the likes of Get Out and Us, with it playing as both a psychological drama and a mystery thriller, and it is also surprisingly creepy. The film runs for just 11 minutes, but it’s beautifully shot and packs a lot into its run time; a sign that its director is sure-footed and a genuine professional. Ellyn Jameson plays Dale, a care worker who wanders the corridors of her hospital to check on her patients. She gives an ethereal, otherworldly performance that, from the opening few seconds, catches us completely off balance. As she drives to work, she answers a car phone which in the glove box and has a chord attached to it; this particular type of prop tells us that something just isn’t right. As she catches a glimpse of her own reflection in the mirror before leaving the car, an uneasiness is forced home. In trying to keep her patients comfortable, Dale spends a bit more time with one of them – Bradley, played with a confused menace by Paul Archer who, unlike Dale’s other charges, doesn’t want to get up, move, or do anything. The rest of the film plays like a constant nightmare with Dale trying to escape from her mundane existence only to struggle into a deeper and even more dreadful and depressive situation.
Ian Coad’s cinematography creates unsettling images in ordinary spaces. Each patient in their room isn’t particularly scary to behold, but when Coad makes the room eerily dark and backlit, so the character’s faces are difficult to see, it becomes unnerving. Even the use of bright light is unsettling, with the way the sun comes through the blinds framed to highlight the distinct oddness of the characters. Paul Sim’s music uses ominous notes and dark themes that lay the foundations for some thrillingly alarming sequences, particularly during Bradley’s story.
Gabriel Caste is not the next Jordan Peele, he is his own director with his own ideas, and has the vision and ability to deserve favorable comparisons. But by using his own sense of cinematic language with Are You Awake? he delivers an exploration into the darker side of the human condition that keeps the audience on edge and guessing throughout the film and long after the end credits have rolled.