Dead Awake started out well but ended up being extremely stereotypical in its plot. However, there are several solid elements and plenty of potential.

The main focus in Dead Awake is sleep paralysis, which in itself is pretty damn scary. Maybe that’s why this movie really does start out pretty well. The characters are interesting and engaging, so we care about them. That’s not unimpressive when we only get very little information about them.

Unfortunately, the characters quickly end up as stereotypical horror versions of real people. This is perhaps the biggest problem with Dead Awake.

However, another issue is the fact that the rules of sleep paralysis seem to change throughout the movie. In fact, it seems that people experiencing sleep paralysis can also see the people around them even when their eyes are closed. I mean, come on… the idea of sleep paralysis is scary enough.

Dead Awake poster - horror movie starring Jocelin Donahue and Jesse Bradford

Dead Awake is all over the place

I can buy the idea that some kind of entity can reach a person during sleep paralysis. This is basically the premise of Dead Awake so I promise I’m not spoiling anything.

However, why couldn’t you at least try to make this entity original in some way? Does everything slightly demonic still have to resemble Japanese horror characters – isn’t that a bit 10 years ago? I mean, even the latest movie in the Ring franchise can’t pull it off properly anymore.

Also, the concept itself is very reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street. And not in a tribute or homage kind of way. Had that been the case, then someone could’ve at least acknowledged this in an off-hand comment. I would personally have respected the idea more. Now it just seems like a cheap knock-off.

dead awake - twins

If it wasn’t because the movie manages to have some good scares, then I would’ve thought it was a spoof. Something where Tamara (The Ring) and Freddy Kruger had made a demonic “love child” that haunted people when they were both awake and asleep.

A cast hard at work

Dead Awake has a very decent cast, but they are having to work all too hard to make the story work. However, I definitely want to acknowledge Jocelin Donahue (Holidays), who portrays twins. Even though I knew it was the same actress, she managed to play them so differently that they were clearly two different people.

Obviously, this is also thanks to the writing, but Jocelin Donahue is the one who makes it work. And while others do a decent job, most of their characters are simply shells of actual people. The characters portrayed by Jesse Bradford (Flags of Our Fathers) and Jesse Borrego (Dexter) especially suffer from this. As a result, you really don’t care much about them.

Lori Petty and Brea Grant (Beyond the Gates), on the other hand, are exceptions. Unfortunately, their characters are featured far too little in the movie. Then again, maybe that’s why they work.

Philip Guzman directed Dead Awake and I haven’t seen any of his previous work, so I can’t really compare. However, I really hope this wasn’t his ideal version of the movie. It’s simply too sloppy and while some elements worked really well, the story was unimpressive.

The story itself was written by screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick, who originated the Final Destination concept. Maybe that’s why I was even more annoyed that many simple elements of this story didn’t work. Especially since it just didn’t make sense. Not so much in a chronological sense (though there’s one instance of that as well), but more as far as the characters acting, well, out of character.

And I’m sorry to say, that when I realized he was the mastermind behind Final Destination – which I do love – then a few elements of the Dead Awake seemed all too familiar. “One trick pony” was a term that came to mind, even if I do think that might be too harsh. This movie had promise on paper, but it didn’t translate very well to the finished film. Unfortunately.

Dead Awake premiered at Shriekfest Horror Film Festival in October 2016 and has been playing at a few film festivals since then. Out in limited theaters and on VOD in the US from May 12, 2017.


Director: Philip Guzman
Writer: Jeffrey Reddick
Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Jesse Borrego, Lori Petty, Jesse Bradford, Brea Grant


A young woman must save herself and her friends from an ancient evil. It stalks its victims through the real-life phenomenon of sleep paralysis.

I write reviews and recaps on Heaven of Horror. And yes, it does happen that I find myself screaming, when watching a good horror movie. I love psychological horror, survival horror and kick-ass women. Also, I have a huge soft spot for a good horror-comedy. Oh yeah, and I absolutely HATE when animals are harmed in movies, so I will immediately think less of any movie, where animals are harmed for entertainment (even if the animals are just really good actors). Fortunately, horror doesn't use this nearly as much as comedy. And people assume horror lovers are the messed up ones. Go figure!
Karina "ScreamQueen" Adelgaard
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