Dead Awake

2016 | unrated (PG-13 equivalent) | starring Jocelin Donahue, Lori Petty | directed by Phillip Guzman | 1hr 39mins |

2017 Halloween Horrorfest #6

Rodney Ascher’s effective documentary The Nightmare invited us into the the frightening real life condition of sleep paralysis. Since then horror movies have attempted to jump into that opening and create their own mythology around it. The direct to video, micro-budget Dead Awake isn’t nearly as well made or entertaining as last week’s sleep paralysis fiction Be Afraid, but it is more interested in exploring the facts and myths of the disorder than that film.

Where Be Afraid conjured up something different with dapper, Babbadock-like top-hat wearing demons, Dead Awake plays more straight into the legend of The Night Hag who climbs onto the chest of victims and chokes them in their sleep. As The Nightmare detailed, early accounts of sleep paralysis so mystified people that they were only explained by witches, demons and eventually aliens. The Night Hag is the monster here, presented without much extra imagination.

Jocelin Donahue (The House of the Devil) in duel role plays a social worker and her twin sister who suffers from the nightly terror. When her twin dies in her sleep, Donahue and her sister’s painter, man-bun-wearing boyfriend investigate claims that an actual witch is killing people who believe in her. Donahue is a real actress from a real Ti West movie and Lori Petty appears in the star-to-get-the-film-greenlit role as a grievance counselor; but make no mistake should you wander across Dead Awake on Netflix, it looks about a half step better than a home movie. It gets by during the night scenes, where the dark adds a grain that obscures some of the cheapness. During the daylight sequences it looks like a Neil Breen film.

We like to rag on Hollywood and big studio movies a lot and it’s true a lot of good stuff doesn’t come out of that system, but a Hollywood movie also usually ensures at least a minimum level of visual spit and polish quality we’re conditioned to. Dead doesn’t have that and will leave some off-put because of it. But that isn’t the reason the film doesn’t work. These movies can still breakthrough if they’re inventive, original, stylish and efficient with their budget, but Dead Awake is miles behind breakouts like It Follows or The Babbadock. There just isn’t anything unique here.

It might scratch a temporary itch for another sleep paralysis movie, but mostly the film covers information already presented better in The Nightmare and doesn’t have a fresh place to take it’s supernatural story. Instead it goes in a direction this subject has been taken in before, turning into a painfully lame Nightmare on Elm Street in it’s 3rd act. Almost beat for beat. The quest for the great supernatural sleep paralysis movie goes on.

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