Dead Awake -- Film Review

Morose supernatural thriller manages to be simplistic and convoluted at the same time.  

“Dead Awake,” now receiving a limited theatrical release, is the sort of B-movie effort that so screams “direct to video” that it’s a wonder they don’t hand you DVDs as you enter the theater. This supernatural-tinged thriller from director Omar Naim (“The Final Cut”) displays some thematic ambition that lifts it a cut above the average horror flick, but its ambitions are undercut by a ham-fisted execution.

The talented Nick Stahl (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) plays the central role of Dylan, a morose funeral home employee whose only friend is his gregarious, burly Irish co-worker (Brian Lynner). After overseeing the crowded funeral of a former high school classmate, Dylan decides to fake his death to see if anyone will bother to show up at his own.

There are only two mourners: Natalie (Amy Smart), his former girlfriend from a decade earlier who is now involved with a successful lawyer; and Charlie (Rose McGowan), a strung-out addict with whom he bears a mysterious connection.

When Dylan subsequently shows up at Charlie’s crack den and reveals himself, it sets off a chain of events including the revelation of a tragedy from his past and a romantic reconnection with his ex.

More effective as a psychological character study than in its Sixth Sense-style treatment of the thin line between life and death, Dead Awake fails to sustain narrative tension due to its frequently confusing storyline and heavy-handed stylization that includes self-consciously blurry visuals, a muted color palette and overbearing music score.

It does boast, however, an impressively somber atmosphere, abetted by effective use of drab Des Moines, Iowa locations.

Stahl delivers a suitably intense turn as the troubled protagonist; Smart is, as usual, highly appealing in her sympathetic role; and a glammed-down McGowan makes for a fairly convincing junkie. But their efforts are ultimately defeated by turgid plot mechanics that make the film’s title all too predictive of audience response.

Opened: Dec. 3 (New Films Cinema)
Production: Tax Credit Finance
Cast: Nick Stahl, Rose McGowan, Amy Smart, Ben Marten, Kim Grimaldi, Brian Lynner
Director: Omar Naim
Screenwriters: Johnny Harrington, Justin Urich, David Boivin
Producers: Anthony Gudas, Lucas Jarach, Jason Price
Executive producers: Ron Gell, Nesim Hason
Director of photography: David A. Armstrong
Editor: Miklos Wright
Music: John Hunter
Production designer: Cecilia Montiel
Costume designer: Carlos Brown
Rated R, 92 minutes