A young woman must save herself and her friends from an ancient evil that stalks its victims through the real-life phenomenon of sleep paralysis.
Whether you’ve personally experienced it or simply heard your share of other people’s horror
stories over the years, it doesn’t get much scarier than sleep paralysis. Director Phillip Guzman
(Sleep No More) makes this all too relatable real life phenomenon the center of his 2016 indie
horror film Dead Awake. The film stars indie horror favorite Jocelin Donahue (House of the
Devil, All the Creatures Were Stirring) in the lead, as well as Jesse Bradford (Cherry Falls), Brea
Grant (Dead Night), Lori Petty (Bates Motel), and others in supporting roles.
The plotline is textbook enough, following the adventures of social worker Kate Bowman
(Donahue) as she investigates a series of mysterious deaths. Each of the deceased in question,
including Kate’s own twin sister (also played by Donahue), died in their sleep shorty after
mentioning nearly identical sleep paralysis visions of a malicious entity. Of course, the deeper
Kate digs into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths, the better acquainted she
herself becomes with the supernatural force responsible. Will she be able to stop it before it
claims her life as well? And more importantly, is Dead Awake actually worth your time, or are
you better off simply sleeping through it yourself?
If you’re not particularly into horror films that tackle well-covered territory (like mysterious
entities that torment people in the middle of the night), Dead Awake probably isn’t going to be
the film that changes your mind. This also may not be for you if you’re at all hoping to see a film that truly explores the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, because this one really doesn’t. As the characters begin to cotton onto the supernatural cause of the mysterious deaths, the film increasingly becomes about people trying their best to avoid falling asleep in the first place, so this has a lot more in common with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise plot-wise.
That’s either something that appeals to you or not, especially in light of Guzman’s rather
uninspired directing style. Dead Awake has definite pacing issues, with lots of scenes seeming
over-repetitive or just plain unnecessary. The plot progression is also pretty predictable, with
lukewarm scares and a finale that doesn’t quite deliver on the level most viewers were anticipating. Most viewers, especially those that have seen their share of this type of film before, are unlikely to be kept up at night as they should be after watching a horror film about sleep paralysis.
Even so, Dead Awake does have its merits. The actors all turn in solid performances, especially
Jocelin Donahue in her dual role as twin sisters. There are also a few effects that deliver a fair
amount of scare value, although none of them are quite what they could have been. A horror
classic in the making it’s not, but Dead Awake is entertaining enough if you go into the
experience not expecting much beyond a predictable rehashing of very familiar territory. It also
might be something a diehard fan of this sort of film could appreciate, even if it doesn’t quite
keep them up at night after watching.
All things considered, you’re not going to be missing much if you decide to pass this one over.
However, you may want to check it out if you’re a Jocelin Donahue fan, as she really does do an
excellent job with her performance.