31 Days of Reviews: Dead Awake (2016)

A social worker begins investigating cases of healthy people who have died in their sleep. In doing so, she discovers a correlation with sleep paralysis and an entity that haunts the nightmares of those who believe in it.

Dead Awake is a psychological horror film, directed by Phillip Guzman and written by Jeffrey Reddick, known for creating Final Destination. It stars Jocelin Donahue (The House of the Devil), Jesse Bradford (Bring It On!), and Jesse Borrego (Fear the Walking Dead). It also features roles played by Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black) and Brea Grant (Rob Zombie’s Halloween II).

Going into Dead Awake, I was immediately taken by the story. It seemed incredibly like something I’d like to make myself. It definitely resembled some of my early ideas I wrote as a teen.

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 2.45.31 PM

It follows a very familiar formula. The main character is personally affected by a strange death. This character begins to research similar strange deaths and establishes a connection between them all. In doing so, the main character and associates put a mark on themselves.

The subject matter of sleep paralysis is very intriguing. It mixes the horror of nightmares with the physical realm. I’ve never experienced sleep paralysis myself, but it sounds terrifying. The entity that plagues the characters that are suffering from this sleep paralysis was an interesting concept as well. Overall, the story being told through Dead Awake could have been really interesting, but I feel like the execution of this idea left a lot to be desired.

A lot of the issues I have with this movie are interconnected. It mostly deals with editing. The first aspect of this that I’ll bring up is how the story is actually put together, how the different scenes are interwoven into each other. This movie utilizes a fade to black a lot. I’m not going to completely diss the fade to black because there are definitely moments where it is necessary and it works, but most of the usage in this movie is more of a hinderance than anything.

This leads me into my second point. The pacing in Dead Awake is very slow. This isn’t always a bad thing. I’m a fan of a good slow burn. The key to this though is having a good sense of suspense. I didn’t feel much of that through this movie.

For a story that is entirely about people who are frozen in a state of partial consciousness as an entity approaches closer and closer in order to strangle them to death, there was a surprisingly little amount of fear here. The music and editing style didn’t lend itself to creating the necessary amount of tension.

I’m normally terrified by something crawling at me from out of the dark, but I felt nothing here. That was very odd for me. It’s almost like being a negative amount of scary.  That’s special I guess.

If the tension had been there, I think Dead Awake could have been really good. We’re seeing an increasing trend of horror films focusing on the effects of sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming and the like. This movie could have fit right in there. It’s got a great cast. I had no problems on that front. It just, unfortunately, suffers from its execution.

It does have some good ideas and redeeming moments, so if you have some time to kill and you’re in the mood for something a bit familiar, you could probably watch this. I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel the same way that I did about it though.


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