By MICHAEL HELMS
The new Australian supernatural horror film AWOKEN spent most of March quietly shooting at the historic Hendon Studios in the city of Adelaide. That is, things were quiet until the demonic possession that grips the movie’s small cast of characters took hold.
Hendon has a lineage in film production stretching way back to the early ’80s. Now run by filmmaker Daniel J. Phillips, who marks his feature directorial debut with AWOKEN, Hendon previously hosted WOLF CREEK 2—with which AWOKEN shares a solid connection. Early in its four-year development, CREEK filmmaker Greg McLean performed duties as a script editor on the project, and Phillips appreciated McLean’s feedback so much that he adopted one of his concepts and sutured it into another script revision. Phillips prefers not to elaborate on McLean’s contribution, instead citing writer Alan Grace, with whom he shares screenplay credit, for discovering the hook upon which AWOKEN hangs its narrative: Fatal Familial Insomnia. FFI is a real medical affliction that affects 60-70 families across the world—a hereditary disease that basically doesn’t allow you to sleep due to a brain defect. It’s documented on YouTube, and is frightening.
AWOKEN takes place in an abandoned medical facility that’s been re-set up by Robert (Erik Thomson) as a place to research experimental medicine. He allows medical student Karla (Sara West) to conduct a study there of her brother Blake (Benson Jack Anthony), whom they fear has contracted the deadly FFI. Mad science soon meets the occult in the film, which also stars Amelia Douglass, Adam Ovadia and Matt Crook.
While keeping mum about many aspects of the film he has been carefully crafting, Phillips does offer this observation: “The sort of horror I’m going for is more sophisticated. What I mean is that it’s not about super-gore. It’s more about tension, and playing upon a growing sense of claustrophobia. It’s got the slow burn of a more traditional horror film.” AWOKEN is now deep into postproduction, and it’s definitely a movie to keep your eyes open for.
Photo: Ian Routledge