At a graveside, a woman is approached by a fringe scientist, who suggests that her loved one's death was not as cut-and-dried as the medical establishment claims. Online, she finds scattered web pages that seem to back up the quack's theories. She makes printouts and urges the people around her to "do the research," throwing herself into the fight. It sounds like an anti-vaxxer origin story, but this is the scaffolding that props up scores of Internet-era horror movies. In Dead Awake, the problem is sleep paralysis (a real and by all accounts terrifying medical phenomenon in which a person wakes up -- or is convinced they've awoken -- and briefly is unable to move or speak), but its secret cause isn’t vaccines but rather a spectral hag sitting on your chest and strangling you (itself a common feature of this form of parasomnia). What are you going to believe -- that the human nervous system is complex and sometimes misfires, or that there are ghost hags?
Under the direction of Phillip Guzman, the whole affair plods along in by-the-numbers fashion, and the characters are all types, displaying little evidence of interior lives. Dead Awake rehashes A Nightmare on Elm Street's sleep-equals-death dilemma, but it lacks that film's visual panache and never invokes as much panic as the malady that inspires it. No wonder everyone keeps nodding off.