Dead Awake (2016) Review

rsz_deadawake1DEAD AWAKE (2016)

Starring Jocelin Donahue, Lori Petty, Jesse Bradford, Brea Grant and Jesse Borrego

Directed by Phillip Guzman

Written by Jeffrey Reddick

Out NOW from Matchbox Films

“A young woman must save herself and her friends from an ancient evil that stalks its victims through the real-life phenomenon known as sleep-paralysis”.

Jeffrey Reddick struck gold when he created the original Final Destination. A smart, original and genuinely scary horror film, helped along greatly by the team of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Final Destination was a huge critical and commercial success that launched a pretty enjoyable franchise. But none of them involving Reddick. So what’s he been up to? Well, he wrote that really bizarre Day of the Dead remake, and a teen horror called Tamara that nobody remembers…And now he’s back again with Dead Awake. Is it as forgettable as those two?

Kate (Jocelin Donahue) is a social worker who begins to investigate the mysterious death of her twin sister Beth (also Donahue), who died in her sleep. Teaming with Beth’s partner Evan (Jesse Bradford), Kate delves into the dark world of sleep paralysis, and quickly discovers a mythical creature which is hell bent on using the horrifying condition to kill her friends.

rsz_deadawake2Imagine for a moment, if you will, if the villain in A Nightmare on Elm Street wasn’t the amazing Robert Englund as the horrifying Freddy Krueger, but a rickety crawling Samara from the Ring remake. Not only that, but the heroes weren’t teens who used their smarts to beat the villain, but a few thirty something mates who can’t move and just let the thing get them.

Well that’s Dead Awake in a nutshell. Sleep paralysis can be used to creepy effect, but not here. It robs the characters of any fight when the demonic entity known as “The Hag” comes crawling up in their faces. Reddick and director Guzman manage to make the sequence quite creepy the first few times it happens, but it becomes quite clear that’s the only trick up their sleeves.

The cast try hard, with Scream queen Donahue squeezing as much life and personality into her underwritten role, and Jesse’s Bradford and Borrego do great, auditions for Charles Manson, the former chilled and morose, the latter bug-eyed and edgy. But more often than not they appear bored when playing exhausted, and like the pace of the film, it can do the same to the viewer. Dead Awake takes itself very seriously, but the lack of fun is a real problem.

rsz_deadawake3Reddick had a great concept on his hands but the execution has no imagination. Every scene that showed the hazards of sleep deprivation just made me hope the Channel Zero crew get around to “The Russian Sleep Experiment”. Now that could be terrifying.

For now, we have this. A shuffling Elm Street retread without the wit and imagination of even it’s remake. If you’re looking for a visually pretty film with nice performances and one or two effective jump scares, check it out. If not, go with the awes Craven one.


Summer Camp (2015) Review

summercamp1Summer Camp (Spain, 2015)

Dir: Alberto Marini

Starring: Maiara Walsh, Diego Boneta, Jocelin Donahue

UK Release TBC

Plot: A group of American students prepare to spend their summer at a sleepaway camp for Spanish kids to learn English. Their preparations are interrupted when an unknown infection begins to affect them, an infection that puts them in an uncontrollable rage. Can they solve the mystery of what is causing the infection and keep themselves safe? A series of misunderstandings creates a confusion as deadly as their blood thirsty friends.

Going into Summer Camp I knew absolutely nothing about it. I had avoided trailers for the majority of this year’s Fright Fest line up (the exception being Turbo Kid) but I assumed that this was just going to be some kind of slasher film with the most obvious title imaginable. I had images of some Jason Voorhees knock-off and maybe some Scream style meta humour. What I got was something very different from Alberto Marini (Producer of the [REC] series) in his directorial debut.

The thing that sets Summer Camp apart from any other horror film based around a summer camp is it’s use of confusion amongst it’s characters. It reminds me a lot of Tucker and Dale vs Evil, another horror comedy of errors, it’s use of misunderstandings taken to gruesome extremes.

summercamp2The infection in Summer Camp takes a similar appearance to the zombie infection of [REC], fast and incredibly aggressive. Imagine the fear of being in that situation combined with not knowing who to trust when you walk in on someone standing over a dead body and you start to see where Summer Camp is going with this.

Summer Camp is a funny film but it’s not the kind of comedy that is constantly bombarding you with jokes, it’s sets up it’s humour in a similar way to how the horror elements build up suspense. It sows seeds to call back to later in the plot, letting the jokes come naturally. It’s a film that opens up slowly and keeps you invested as you try to solve the mystery of the infection alongside the protagonists.

The film has a relatively small cast and gets even smaller, mainly focusing on the three Americans played by Walsh, Bonita, and Donahue. They all have a great range, showing they can pull off both being infected and being terrified both of which are areas I have seen many actors fall down on. They also manage to pull of the comic timing required for a film like this so they are all wonderfully multi-faceted.

summercamp3Visually, Summer Camp is gorgeous. The Spanish locations are beautiful, even with the local hill-billy meth lab camper van. Marini’s camera captures this cinematic environment in it’s beauty even when it’s contrasted by plentiful gore and violence.

I found Summer Camp to be a very fun ride from start to finish. It’s got innovation and style that compliment the storytelling well and it kept me enthralled for it’s duration. Definitely one of my top three from this year’s Fright Fest.


31 Days of Horror: #26 – The House of the Devil

31 Days of Horror: #26 – The House of the Devil

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

HOTDThe House of the Devil (2009)

Written & Directed by Ti West

Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov

Eerily nostalgic in both its script and style, Ti West offers a sophisticated throwback to eighties Satanic Panic and babysitter-centric slasher features. However, being a lover of the genre himself, West masterfully uses horror conventions to his advantage – showcasing a chilling tale of suspense with some fantastic characterisation.

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The House of The Devil (2009) Review

Dir. Ti West

“During the 1980s, over 70 percent of American adults believed in the existence of abusive Satanic cults. Another 30 percent rationalized the lack of evidence due to government cover ups,this film is based on true and unexplained events…”

The term “slow burn” is one not often associated with recent horror films–a fact not too surprising given the breakneck pace of modern media and the resulting fact many people have the attention span of goldfish.
But American independent filmmaker Ti West proves that good things come to those who wait with his 2009 Satanic retro-thriller, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL.

College student Samantha is looking to make a few extra dollars, and takes a gig working for Mr. and Mrs. Ulman, who are in desperate of a babysitter, she responds to the job offer and learns that Mr. Ulman wants her to look after his aged mother for the night.

hotd1At first Samantha baulks at the offer, but then accepts the job when Mr. Ulman offers her $400 for four hours–despite the protestations of her friend, Megan. And so Samantha’s evening begins, she orders a pizza, plays a few bars of “Heart and Soul” on the harpsichord, and watches the TV news to learn that tonight is a total lunar eclipse.

As each hours passes, edging closer to midnight and the moment when Earth’s shadow will swallow the moon, Samantha’s curiosity gets the best of her, and she discovers the house may not belong to the Ulmans.

Clue after clue is revealed until it becomes shockingly clear that infernal machinations are in motion at THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. A straightforward, not entirely original plot to be sure, but then THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL isn’t about complex storytelling and deep meaning. It’s about nostalgia, atmosphere and ambience, and making you fall in love with the main character, and it succeeds on all counts.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL looks like a 1980s horror film, from the font used for the title credits to the way characters dress to the soundtrack. But it is not a pastiche or parody of an 80s horror film, and even the term “homage” isn’t quite right. It would be most accurate to say it IS an 80s movie—one that West found in the dusty back room of a long since closed video rental store in 2009 and no one else had ever seen before then.

Our heroine, Samantha, is the girl-next-door. Played by Jocelin Donahue, she is a young woman who worries about money, is more serious about school than boys, is responsible, and even prefers the comfort of wearing mittens, scarf and a hat to stay warm at the risk of looking uncool. A real person.

hotd3As soon as the film hits the 4-minute mark, the title screen pops up, Samantha puts on her headphones, and presses “play” on her Walkman, I was in love. Samantha is a believable character, and there are beautiful touches to her characterization, like running the taps in the dorm washroom so no one hears her crying.

It’s refreshing to see a female lead who is intelligent, grounded and not unnecessarily sexualized. No shower scenes–just a montage to the beat of The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.”

But this is a horror movie, and hints of unease begin to creep into the picture when we meet Mr. and Mrs. Ulman, played by the excellent Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov respectively. Mr. Ulman is a calm fellow–cryptic but not exactly sinister. Mrs. Ulman is dressed in black and has dark, dark eyes but seems nice enough. Their house is fantastic, establishing a distinct geography that will play a major role in the film. It looks like it actually belongs to a wealthy, older couple with taste yet there’s a sense of the uncanny about it. There’s no cobwebs, but there is a candy dish on the coffee table.

While all this is a bit vague so far, that seems to be the point.

The film is suspenseful, but much of this, at least at first, stems from the viewer’s expectations. You came to watch a horror film, “Something has to happen, right?” you ask, perched on the edge of your seat.

Yet THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is perhaps more remarkable for the sense of ease it instils in the viewer, the manner in which the film charms. This serves well in lulling the viewers until a pivotal moment when the query is uttered: “Are you not the babysitter?”

hotd4After this point, the suspense is ratcheted up, as Samantha remains unaware that anything is wrong while the viewer waits for some inevitable horror to befall her, and it does, building to an incendiary final 15 minutes which should satisfy any horror fan. Some things are worth waiting for.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is a nearly perfect independent horror film. The only possible weakness it exhibits is that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but then that’s their problem, isn’t it?