Top notch visual storytelling and solid performances help shape this short into an eerie and unsettling experience. One that stays with you when you walk away, as all the best dreams do.
Sweet Dreams are made of this.
Dale (Ellyn Jameson) is a door-to-door sleep tech. Every morning she makes her rounds, waking her clients up and ensuring that they are fully awake before moving on. Like an amazon delivery driver taking a signature when delivering a parcel.
It’s hard, monotonous work, often placing Dale in odd circumstances and when she finds herself covering for another sleep tech Herminio (played by writer/director Gabriel Caste himself ) an interaction with one of his clients, Bradley (Paul Archer) shocks her into revelation.
Are You Awake (2022) is a beautifully shot piece that has clearly been given a lot of love and attention. Its saturated colours are reminiscent of Promising Young Woman (2020) or the UK TV series Utopia (2013), both of which were unique viewing experiences. Caste also makes clever us use of aspect ratio and framing to create a confined, claustrophobic experience and the actors all give suitably worn-out and lived-in performances.
The costume and set design have been lavished with equal care. Dale’s uniform is appropriately ill-maintained in comparison to her peers and the houses and squats we find Dale’s clients sleeping in are all either barren or filled with detritus. It reminded me of the locales we saw in It Follows (2014), where we spend time in an America that is used up and hollow. It renders this short timeless which one can only admire.
Who am I to disagree?
A particular highlight was the short’s use of sound. When Dale meets Bradley his voice is almost non-diegetic in its application. Thus it becomes like a voice in Dale’s head. It’s unnerving for her and us and this moment is supported by some wonderful visuals that help to sell the moment as uncomfortable and frightening.
This level of planning and vision means that even at a crisp 11 minutes we are able to learn a lot about the film’s characters. It leaves us with the impression that they are all lonely or unwell, filling their lives up with exercise, drugs and sex instead of much-needed rest and relaxation. No one is allowing themselves time to heal.
Dale is no exception.
Everybody’s looking for something.
Were this a feature one supposes the tensions between Dales’s desire to escape her nightmares and the demands of the real world is something would see examined. It is explored here already via Herminio’s clients. They might live messy lives but they all had the foresight to hire someone to help them wake up, suggesting they are all trying to deal with their trauma. But it is all too brief and all too subtle to be taken in straight away.
Instead, once Dale has realised her problem the film ends. It feels initially that her choice is to simply put her head in the sand and ignore things, which feels problematic. After all, she is echoing Bradley at that moment and well…he didn’t look to be doing too good.
But then, on further reflection, it is as Herminio says, Dale’s approach is “ok”. It is here we come to realise that the message in Are You Awake is that when dealing with trauma, not every day needs to be revolutionary. Sometimes just getting out of bed can be a victory, and something we might need help with.
That’s rather freeing, isn’t it? It lowers the stakes of our daily lives and lets us (and Dale) just be. That’s a good thing. A positive note to wake up to before you deal with the day, even if you did have a bad dream the night before.
No wonder Herminio whistles while he works.