Sleep paralysis is a fascinating and terrifying subject that affects a huge number of people all across the world as demonstrated by the brilliant documentary The Nightmare by Rodney Ascher which still manages to freak me out whenever I think about it.
Basing a fictional tale around the fearful phenomenon which causes the sufferer to be paralysed between reality and dreams unable to move or speak and causing all sorts of horrible hallucinations which feel completely real seems an amazing idea especially when, as The Nightmare pointed out, horror cinema has been using the images and ideas from sleep paralysis for some time now.
Sadly and surprisingly however in the hands of script writer Jeffrey Reddick who created the awesome revolutionary Final Destination the real life life threatening condition is transformed into a boring and mundane trite movie with very little originality.
Jocelin Donahue from Insidious Chapter 2 stars as twin sisters Kate and Beth who have grown apart over the years despite their strong bond with the division having gotten worse since Beth started experiencing sleep paralysis driving her deep into depression and madness.
Claiming a hag like woman haunts her at night Beth keeps a diary along with drawings of the wicked witch who she thinks wants her dead and on one fateful evening this supernatural spectre claims the twin in her sleep all of which Kate witnesses due to a seemingly psychic bond she has with her sister.
Moving back home into the room her sister died in Kate is confused at first but after reading her twins notes and visiting her artist boyfriend Even (Jesse Bradford) she becomes convinced that the malevolent being is real.
With her friends and dream specialist Dr. Sykes (Lori Petty) disbelieving her she must turn to unconventional nightmare expert Dr. Hassan Davies (Jesse Borrego) to take on the seemingly unstoppable being that now visits her in her sleep threatening to take her the same way as it did her sister.
Although attempting to weave in facts, fables and ancient mythology on sleep paralysis Reddick and director Phillip Guzman’s biggest mistake is to take such a dense and deeply disturbing condition and simplify it to create a dull and overdone storyline.
Desperately trying to cash in on Insidious and its many repellent replicants Dead Awake reduces the entire chaos ridden kaleidoscope of vicious and visceral visitations we find in real life and The Nightmare to one simple cliché character in the form of the J’-Horror rip off Night Hag who here is to blame for all the evils of the disease.
This leads to the other issue as by imposing logic on what is fundamentally far more frightening because it is real and so unknowable the story starts to unravel by the end leaving the audience with a flaccid third act where Kate must fight the dream witch in an unconvincing climax.
Filled with so so acting from the majority of the cast who do their best with a flimsy script throughout the only stand out characters are the disparate doctors who both light up the screen in their separate scenes.
Lori Petty’s Dr Sykes treads an interesting line between sarcastic scepticism and sinister patient control while Jesse Borrego crafts Dr. Hassan into a partially deranged spiritualist who you wouldn’t trust to treat your cat even though he ends up being the expert in the deadly dreams Kate is having.
A wasted opportunity all round it is ironic that a fiction on such an insane and horrifying disorder ended up being less imaginative, innovative and scary than a documentary on the same subject however the truth is Dead Awake is a dull and dreary daydream compared to the full on all encompassing fear fest that is The Nightmare.