The opening titles helpfully inform us that every year at least three million cases of sleep paralysis are documented in the U.S. This is the temporary inability to speak or move in the period before going to sleep or waking.
Kate Bowman (Jocelin Donahue) is a social worker who suffers from this condition, and is drawn into investigating the subject after the death of her sister, Beth (also played by Donahue). At her funeral, the rather creepy Dr. Hassan Davies (Jesse Borrego), who specialises in sleep disorders, is told by Kate that her sister died from an asthma attack. Dr. Davies says that’s odd because she didn’t have asthma.
On the night of Beth’s death Kate has a sleep paralysis episode when she briefly sees an entity at the end of her bed, and she wakes up panicked. She immediately rings her Father to check on Beth, and he finds her dead in her bed.
Something disturbing is going on, and in a second meeting with Dr. Davies, he says that in the past 30 years hundreds of victims in excellent health, have been frightened to death in their sleep. All of them reported a figure sitting on top of them strangling them and they called it “the sitting ghost”. It is an ancient phenomenon also known as the Old Hag Syndrome.
Kate accuses Evan (Jesse Bradford) an artist friend of her dead sister, of bringing her down, but they strike up a friendship to explore what is going on. She also has another friend, Linda Noble (Brea Grant), who suffers from this condition.
Having more than adequately established the facts of sleep paralysis, director Phillip Guzman, cranks up the tension with Kate being stalked by a dark entity who is intent on killing her and her friends in their sleep.
Dr. Sykes (Lori Petty), at the Somna clinic says sleep paralysis is harmless and Dr. Davies is making her imagination ‘go nuts’ and ‘it is all superstitious madness’ caused by hallucinations. We all know she is going to be proved wrong!
It is useful that this film provides a showcase for this frightening condition, yet by turning its causation into an actual entity it is likely to induce more fear than understanding in real-life victims of this phenomenon.
Dead Awake is like a public information film mixed with horror and suspense. It knowingly draws on A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it puts more weight on its characters and their performances than special effects. The acting, editing and sinister soundtrack contribute to a pleasing and effective film with a neat twist at the end.
DEAD AWAKE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: PHILLIP GUZMAN / SCREENPLAY: JEFFREY REDDICK / STARRING: JOCELIN DONAHUE, JESSE BORREGO, JESSE BRADFORD, BREA GRANT, LORI PETTY / RELEASE DATE: 15TH MAY