It's a take on the ‘sleep is death’ theme, and ties in sleep paralysis, as well. A terrifying entity stalks Kate’s friends and loved ones after the death of her twin, Beth, she realises that she’s brought death to the people around her. Now, she and Beth's boyfriend, Evan, ‘must fight to stay awake and get to the truth, in order to stop the nightmare she’s unleashed from claiming them all.’ The creepy film co-stars Lori Petty and Brea Grant alongside Donahue, and the performances in this film are just stellar. Dead Awake is available now on DVD and via Video on Demand, and we spoke with Donahue about her performance in the film, and what she has coming out.
STARBURST: Obviously, the foremost question is: what was it like doubling yourself?
Jocelin Donahue: It was a really interesting experience playing twins. I had the chance to play two characters, and to create a relationship between them. Kate and Beth are written as very distinct people, and I tried to accentuate differences in their demeanour and appearance. On the technical side, it was a matter of blocking out each character’s movements, then shooting both sides of the conversation, sometimes over my double’s shoulder, sometimes in a locked-off shot.
Was that part of the appeal to taking the role(s) you did?
Yes, the opportunity to play twins was a huge draw! And I thought the subject matter was fascinating. Sleep paralysis is a real-world phenomenon: a disorder that afflicts many people with symptoms that seem like they are ripped from a horror film. Plus, I loved that there is such a long history and mythology around night terrors.
How do you deal with the experience of both dying and surviving in the same film?
Our director, Phillip Guzman, was really focused on the family dynamics and the relationships that underpin the story. Kate feels extreme grief, guilt, and anger over Beth’s demise, and these emotions are what drives her battle against the Night Hag. That gave me a lot of emotional motivation to work with.
Did you do any research into the sleep paralysis phenomenon before you went into this role?
I studied up on the condition and read a lot of first-hand accounts. Coincidentally, when I first got the script for Dead Awake I was reading Oliver Sack’s book Hallucinations. The section on sleep paralysis describes the visceral hallucinations that accompany the condition. Before we understood the physiology behind the disorder, the folklore of various cultures provided other explanations – demons, hags, aliens, or visitations from a ‘previous life.’ It’s so interesting from an anthropological perspective!
Alternately, did you dig into any of the classic ‘can't sleep!’ horror films like Bad Dreams or A Nightmare on Elm Street for inspiration?
Yes, I re-watched NOES because I knew how much has been inspired by that film and all of Wes Craven’s work. He has said that Dead Awake pays homage to that film, and like you say, we fit into the ‘don’t fall asleep!’ niche of horror.
The number of veteran character actors in Dead Awake amazed us. Did you know you'd be working with Lori Petty going in?
I learned that Lori was on board a few weeks before we began shooting and I was super excited to work with her. I loved A League of Their Own and Tank Girl when I was younger. She brings so much life to all the characters she plays. Plus, we had Jesse Borrego and James Eckhouse, who were such pros.
Speaking of great co-stars, yourself and Brea Grant in the same film is a modern genre coup. How was that experience?
Brea is awesome! She knows how to make layered characters that the audience immediately relate to, which is a must in horror films. And behind the scenes, I can tell you she is smart as a whip and so sweet.
The horror films you appear in have a very familial element to them. Is that something which interests you, or just coincidental?
I think that’s just a function of storytelling in general. Whatever the genre is, you have to get the audience to identify with the hero, and usually you do this through their relationships. It’s important, especially in horror, to feel for the characters so the audience can hope and fear and take the whole crazy ride with them.
It's pretty fantastic you self-identify as a ‘scream queen’ on Twitter. Is that a gag, or do you take some satisfaction in that identity?
Well, my Twitter bio says ‘final girl’. It describes some of the roles I’ve played and pays respect to the tough and resourceful women of horror.
Do you have any projects coming up which you'd like to let fans know about?
In September, I have a film coming out called Boomtown. It’s a dramatic look at the fracking industry in the Bakken region of North Dakota that includes real world stories and locals. And I recently finished a horror/thriller called Browse. It stars Lukas Haas as a guy who becomes convinced that he’s been hacked and that his devices are controlling him. Should be creepy!
You can find more information about DEAD AWAKE via its website (http://areyoudeadawake.com/) and buy it now on DVD. Follow Jocelin Donahue on Twitter @jocelindonahue.