Recovering alcoholic Beth (Jocelin Donahue) has recently moved back into her parents' home, staying in her old childhood bedroom. She still carries resentment towards her identical twin sister Kate (also Donahue), who she fell out with a few years earlier. So it's hardly surprising when we learn that the troubled Beth is also suffering from frightening episodes during the night, in which she awakens with the sensation of being strangled by an unseen presence.
Eventually turning to her therapist sister for help, Beth is persuaded that her condition is nothing more than a severe case of sleep paralysis. When Kate accompanies her to a specialist clinic, the doctor there (Lori Petty) tells her that - despite the fact that she feels a presence holding her down and claims to have seen a figure on top of her at times - these kind of vivid hallucinations are, in fact, harmless.
Not so. That evening, Kate experiences a similar trauma - she's awoken by the image of a creepy man crawling towards her, strangling her as she lays paralysed on her bed - and instinctively rings the family home, asking her father (James Eckhouse) to check in on Beth. Beth has died in her sleep.
The coroner puts her misfortune down to an asthma attack. But Kate is unconvinced, especially when she bumps into creepy sleep doctor Hassan (Jesse Borrego) at Beth's funeral. He claims Beth was visiting him for help with her sleep disorder, and says she didn't suffer from asthma. He clearly has his own ideas about what killed Beth, and meets with Kate a short while later to share these with her: he speaks of a "sitting ghost" which has been documented through the centuries and is believed to have been responsible for hundreds of death. Once he realises Kate herself has seen the ghost, he warns her that she is in grave danger. She flees, ignoring his pleas for her to let him help her.
In the meantime, Kate moves back into her parents' home and more specifically into Beth's old bedroom. She starts calling in on Beth's grieving boyfriend Evan (Jesse Bradford) in the hope of learning more about her late sister's condition. Oh, and she bumps into old pal Linda (Brea Grant) when revisiting Sykes' clinic, and learns that she too has a sleep disorder - and has also been visited by a ghostly strangler in the night.
Naturally, it's not long before Kate receives another visit from the evil force - this time while she's languishing in the bathtub.
Increasingly convinced by Hassan's claims - which she'd initially written off as being mere superstition - Kate determines to stop the "sitting ghost" before it claims any more of her friends or family. With the help of tortured artist Evan, and his relentless Internet researching (including a quote from an interview Sheryl Crow gave to "Rolling Stone" magazine!), can she unravel this mystery and save the day? Especially since Evan has started receiving the same haunting hallucinations too...
Directed by Phillip Guzman, DEAD AWAKE comes from a screenplay by Jeffrey Reddick - the guy most well-known for writing the screenplays to FINAL DESTINATION and, er, Steve Miner's DAY OF THE DEAD remake.
Clearly made with a decent budget at its disposal, the film is well-lit, stylishly shot and always attractive to look at. Production values are slick and assured.
But that's not enough to prevent DEAD AWAKE from being rather insipid in execution. Coming across like a half-asleep variation on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE ENTITY and even at times DEADLY BLESSING, the film lacks both energy and originality.
There are precious few surprises in store, such is the by-the-numbers nature of Reddick's screenplay. Performances are sedate throughout, conspiring with Marc Vanocur's unimaginative score and Dominique Martinez's derivative cinematography to deny even set-piece scenes of any sense of life or threat. There isn't even any humour to speak of.
I was surprised by Donahue's performances here. She was great in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, a genuinely refreshing screen presence who not only held that film together but showed great promise for the future. Here, she's charisma-free and, at her worst, she doesn't act very well at all. Still, she's better than the truly woeful Borrego. He seems to believe he's acting in a hammy old 60s B-movie horror, with his overly ripe deliveries of the film's cheesiest lines. Petty is underuse. The most amusing moment of acting though comes from Billy Blair as a former sleep paralysis victim visited by Evan and Kate: he's terrifically overwrought in a sequence so brilliantly comical (albeit entirely unintentionally) that it temporarily ignites some interest in events. However, he's off the screen a couple of minutes later and interest soon ebbs away again as a consequence.
DEAD AWAKE can't even rely on good old exploitation values to get it by. It's not scary, there's no gore or nudity, action is almost non-existent, and there's no real trash element. The "ghost" owes a lot to contemporary Asian cinema - too much, as it only serves to remind us how much better our Eastern friends are at this type of fare.
In short, DEAD AWAKE - despite its vaguely interesting premise - isn't very good. At all.
Matchbox Films are releasing the movie on UK DVD.
The online screener viewed presented the film in 16x9 widescreen, preserving the original ratio. The film looked very healthy, with strong sharp visuals and accurate colours.
English 2.0 audio was similarly reliable throughout.
I'm unaware of any extras being included on the DVD, but Matchbox usually provide a few trailers for upcoming titles at the very least.
DEAD AWAKE is a poor Americanised version of Asian horror, neither spooky nor interesting enough to make the grade. Characters are badly written, dialogue is often embarrassingly cheesy (especially as the tone is so humourless) and performances are surprisingly below par, given the calibre of the cast.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Matchbox Films|