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What do you see when you turn out the lights and go to sleep? Monsters in the dark? Ghosts and demons? It’s a question horror movies practically thrive on, the bedroom a breeding ground for the worst things we can imagine. We are so primed by the imagery of it in the genre, the mere presence of it can trigger a little dread.
With Be Afraid, the second recent film to feature sleep paralysis as its premise (or at least sleep in general), the bedroom once again plays its part in the horror. We meet Dr. John (Brian Krause), who has recently moved to a rustic small town, hoping to give his pregnant wife Heather (Jaimi Paige) and their young son Nathan (Michael Leone) a fresh start. Not long after they arrive, in comes Ben (Jared Abrahamson), John’s college-aged son from a previous marriage, who has dropped out and feeling aimless. Trouble begins though when Nathan seems connected with an ethereal presence and John encounters Dean (Kevin Grevioux), a disturbed father looking for his daughter, who he claims was taken by a terrible evil four years ago. Suffering from sleep paralysis, John opens his door to the horror, but in that state is unable to do anything about it.
Directed by Drew Gabreski, Be Afraid is by and large another very familiar horror film with all the proper pieces in place, working to justify its existence by rolling out all the clichés we’ve come to expect in the genre. Yes, the sleep paralysis is a nice twist, if now not quite so original, but does offer some opportunities for chills, though the film is more about the mystery than the frights. The movie shifts about from John to a neighbor named Annabelle (Callie Thorne) and her daughter Nikki (Noell Coet) who take interest in little Nathan, who they know is able to see the demons living in the shadows. This spreads to Nikki’s attraction to Ben and an obnoxious local thug (Todd Goble) who bullies him, all of it stuffing the story with a lot to take in, even if it’s not all that hard to follow.
The real issue is the film’s false sense of fear, with saturated moments that push to be more scary than they are and while Gabreski handles the pacing well, there is a noticeable lack of momentum throughout, leaving many sequences feeling like contrived prods at the audience rather than something more organic. Obvious musical cues and plodding subplots only add to this imbalance. Still, Be Afraid is not poorly acted, with most in the cast pulling their weight, including the highly underused Michelle Hurd, who comes off best, though the film as a whole is disappointingly underwhelming.
Be Afraid ironically seems just that, only going halfway with its potential, missing opportunities to use the setup to better effect. While it has a decent monster, it is rarely anything more than a figure in the peripheral (a fact that the film even uses as a narrative device) as the story edges toward an uneasy ending that is slightly unearned if not unexpected. Feeling more like it should be trimmed as part of a horror anthology, Be Afraid is a film of good ideas that can’t quite make them work.
Movie description: Be Afraid is a 2017 horror film about a man who travels to the country to start a new life with his family, only to descend into his literal nightmares.
Director(s): Drew Gabreski
Actor(s): Brian Krause, Jaimi Paige, Louis Herthum