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Pick a room in any house where you think you’ll find the most potential for monsters in the dark and nine times outta ten it’s gonna be the bedroom. From under the mattress to inside the closet to something creepy poking around the outside window, this is the place where the most scares come.
Now imagine that once you’re in your bed all snug and tight, you have a dream where your body can’t move even though your mind struggles to do so. Then imagine it’s not a dream. The condition is called ‘sleep paralysis’ and is a very real condition that temporarily renders the victim voiceless and with no ability to move. They are often accompanied by hallucinations and nightmares, with legends invoking succubi, incubi, or even the devil as cause, and in Dead Awake, a new thriller that suggests it’s all real, one has come to claim those who believe.
Beth and Kate (Jocelin Donahue in both parts) are twins, late twenty-somethings on different paths, with Kate popular, in a stable career, positive and doing well for herself and Beth a bit of the opposite, living with her parents, introverted and suffering from recurring bouts of sleep paralysis. She is convinced a demon in the form of a terrifying ancient entity is visiting her in the night, crawling toward her in attempts to strangle her. However, her history of mental health issues makes believing hard for Kate, but a tragedy changes that and when Kate decides to sleep in the same bed, she learns that some horrors may not be just in one’s mind.
Directed by Phillip Guzman, Dead Awake is a taunt little thriller that taps into a few well-tread tropes of the genre, combing themes from a few popular horror films in decades past, including A Nightmare On Elm Street, but spins a few of these enough to make it feel original. These include a spirit that has a number of clever abilities in stalking prey, some that might be familiar, while others less so, though no matter the methods, Guzman manages to keep it pretty tense, constructing a solid collection of creepy moments. The premise means the victim can’t move, which right away leaves the film without the traditional screaming and fleeing as those trapped in their belief lie in silent, immobile panic as the hag, which can take on the shape of one the victim’s know, slithers close. These make for some disturbing sequences that while not entirely groundbreaking, are chilling nonetheless.
Where Dead Awake works best though is in the performances, with a strong cast, including a terrific turn by Jesse Bradford as a studio artist gripped by loss and fear as reality and nightmares begin to blend and Lori Petty as a sleep scientists with a cold clinical approach. Best though is Donahue, who carries the film in a challenging role, showing some great range in playing two characters, her transformation from start to finish great stuff to watch, continuing to prove she’s one to keep an eye on.
Certainly, there are parallels here that can’t be ignored, especially with the old hag herself, a creature long told in literature and art but portrayed here with some definite similarities to Japanese horror films, but this almost feels more like a nod than a theft, though the rules she plays by do sort of undercut some larger potential for fear. Still, as a late night thriller, there is enough here for fans of indie horror to embrace and is well worth giving a chance.
Movie description: Dead Wake is a 2017 horror film about a young woman who must save herself and her friends from an ancient evil that stalks its victims through the real-life phenomenon of sleep paralysis.
Director(s): Phillip Guzman
Actor(s): Lori Petty, Jesse Bradford, Brea Grant
Genre: Horror, Thriller