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Awoken Explores the Intersection Between Science and the Supernatural

India has been an avid fan of all things spooky and scary ever since she can remember.


"You need to get some rest."

— Awoken, 2019

While Awoken falls short of revolutionizing the horror genre, the film is worth watching for its fresh take on an old trope (and you’ve got to give it props for the title). Sara West stars as Karla, a young medical student desperate to cure her brother (Benson Jack Anthony), who is suffering from a rare disease known as fatal familial insomnia (FFI). However, Karla soon realizes that there may be more to her sibling’s bizarre behavior than a lack of sleep…

I’ve always been fascinated by rare diseases, so the mention of FFI intrigued me. I’d heard of the condition before, but only in passing. However, a quick Google search had me regretting my curiosity. Possession aside, the prospect of dying from insomnia is terrifying!

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), FFI is a genetic degenerative brain disorder characterized by an inability to sleep which progressively worsens, leading to significant physical and mental deterioration and eventually, death. There’s something to think about the next time you’re struggling to fall asleep!

Of course, it’s important to remember that fascinating though the condition might be, FFI has devastating consequences for patients and their families. In addition to witnessing their loved ones’ slow and torturous demise, children of FFI sufferers have a fifty percent chance of inheriting the gene themselves: a fate far more horrifying than any demon.

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In keeping with this dreadful reality, Awoken highlights Karla’s anger and desperation as she fights to save her brother, as well as his attempt to remain hopeful even amidst his suffering. However, despite the movie’s skillful portrayal of the physical and emotional devastation wrought by FFI, its approach to possession is less compelling; the demon’s origin story and appearance fail to reflect the level of effort which was devoted to explaining the disease and illustrating its symptoms.

Nevertheless, despite this disappointment Awoken still managed to make me shudder. As I mentioned earlier, the prospect of dying from a lack of sleep is terrifying enough to compensate for the movie’s half-baked approach to demonic possession. I also appreciated its observations on the relationship between science and religion, since, as the priest pointed out, the two are often viewed as mutually exclusive. However (for most people, anyway), believing in God doesn’t mean rejecting science. In fact, science and religion are more similar than we realize. After all, both navigate uncertainty in the search for truth, attempting to explain things we cannot see but accept regardless. In that sense, a scientist is just as much a person of faith as a reverend.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 India LaPalme

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