Director: Phillip Guzman
Writer: Jeffrey Reddick
Producer: Galen Walker, James LaMarr, Derek Lee Nixon, Phillip Guzman, Philip Marlatt, Kurt Wehner
Stars: Jocelin Donahue, Jesse Bradford, Jesse Borrego, James Eckhouse, Brea Grant, Lori Petty, Billy Blair, Mona Lee Fultz, A.J. Gutierrez, Natali Jones, Liz Mikel
A young woman connects a series of puzzling deaths to the phenomenon of sleep paralysis and nightmares of a demonic hag.
First-person accounts regarding the real-life phenomenon describe sleep paralysis as a terrifying experience for victims. Contrarily, filmmakers have not had huge success translating those feelings into frightful fiction for viewers.
While “The Nightmare” (review here), Rodney Ascher’s stylized documentary on the subject, garnered fair acclaim, straight thrillers such as “Shadow People” (review here) and “The Man in the Shadows” (review here) have been as sleepy about suspense as sufferers are when they encounter night terrors. Phillip Guzman’s “Dead Awake,” with a script from “Final Destination” scribe Jeffrey Reddick, adds itself to this growing list of evidence that perhaps sleep paralysis isn’t quite the fodder for filmic nightmare fuel that some seem to think it is.
Or at least, it isn’t when Freddy Krueger isn’t involved. And try as it might, and boy does it try, “Dead Awake” is definitely not “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Driven by the sudden death of her twin sister Beth, Kate Bowman unravels a mystery involving Beth’s boyfriend Evan, her friend Linda, two different doctors, and a disorder where subjects are strangled to death in their sleep. What worries Kate even more is discovering that the supernatural source of her sister’s demise is far from finished haunting their family and friends.
Summing up “Dead Awake” in two sentences is simple since there is so little substance involved. There isn’t much character development. There isn’t even much story. Below is the rambling roadmap followed after an opening scene in which Beth discloses her nighttime troubles at a boring birthday party. Note how many times “goes/returns to” appears:
- Beth goes to see her sister Kate to explain her disorder in detail.
- The two sisters go to see Dr. Sykes, who assures them that sleep paralysis is not physically harmful.
- Kate goes to Beth’s funeral and meets Hassan, a doctor who confirms Beth’s claims of a hag haunting her nightmares.
- Kate goes to see her parents and moves into Beth’s room.
- Kate goes to see Beth’s boyfriend Evan, who redirects Kate back to Dr. Sykes.
- Kate goes to see Dr. Sykes, who dismisses Hassan’s radical theories for not being based in science.
- Kate goes to see Hassan, who tells Kate more about “The Old Hag Syndrome.”
- Kate contacts Linda, Beth’s friend who is under Dr. Sykes care, but Linda refuses to say anything about visions involving the hag.
- Kate returns to Evan, who has his own encounter with the hag in a nightmare that evening.
- Kate returns to her parents for a brief “we’re worried about you.”
- Kate is called to see Linda, who finally wishes to open up about her experiences.
- Kate and Linda return to Dr. Sykes, who reiterates the same things she said on Kate’s previous two visits.
- Kate returns to Evan and they find a lead in John Pang, who may have a solution to the sleep paralysis problem. Unable to get Pang on the phone, Kate decides to drive to Austin, Texas to see him in person.
- Kate goes to bring Linda along, despite last leaving Linda on Dr. Sykes’ side. Kate is greeted at Linda’s door by Dr. Sykes, who unprofessionally infers Kate is partly responsible for Linda’s unfortunate fate. This is the last time we see Sykes before an epilogue stinger.
- Kate and Evan go to see Hassan to tell him they are going to see Pang.
- Kate and Evan drive to Austin only to find Pang is a raving nutcase who is no help at all.
- Kate and Evan return to Hassan, who has a plan for breaking the hag’s spell over each of them. Kate undergoes Hassan’s experiment, but before Evan has the same opportunity, Kate recalls her parents might be in similar danger and they rush home to check.
- Kate’s parents are fine, and this false alarm is the last part they play in the film. Instead of returning to Hassan for Evan’s treatment, Kate and Evan return to Evan’s loft, where Kate takes a shower.
- Hassan goes to see Kate.
- Kate goes back to Hassan’s.
Motivations for moving from point A to point B are fabricated so flimsily, plot progression becomes a circuitous line through setups existing solely to encounter a roadblock. Then the story simply ping-pongs back to a previous dot or otherwise spins its wheels without gaining any traction.
Tension is backed into a corner because characters, many of whom have a semblance of perfunctory functions yet end up as excisable inclusions killing time through conversation, are caught standing stone still because of the sleep paralysis concept, making for anemic onscreen action. Suspense instead involves a doctor waiting to administer an adrenaline shot before dropping the needle under a couch at a key moment. Is watching outstretched arms scrabbling frantically on the floor really supposed to raise goosebumps?
“Dead Awake” stirs a batter of Wes Craven’s greatest hits without including any of the frightful flavor. Reddick’s script is basic to the point of being DOA, shackling actors to dull personalities and bland direction in the process.
“Dead Awake” is dangerous to watch within easy access to a Pause button. It’s tempting to hit that option often in hopes of encountering a more interesting distraction. Before you know it, a 98-minute movie lasts three hours or more. And you don’t want to spend any more time with “Dead Awake” than you have to.
Review Score: 40