Waking Nightmare (or Sleepy Snoozemare?) shows us why we shouldn’t write and direct an independent movie while sleepwalking.
In this horror/thriller, co-directed by Steven Craig (Running with Fear) and Brian Farmer (Blue Call), you may experience hypnopompic hallucinations from your own waking nightmare, aka sleep paralysis. Before you guys sleepwalk away from this review, I just want to set the record straight. The main character in this story is a somnambulist—aka a sleepwalker—which is not the same thing as someone experiencing a waking nightmare. A waking nightmare is another term for sleep paralysis. Just to be crystal clear, sleep paralysis is when you CAN’T MOVE while you’re asleep:
Cheyne (2003) entails a period of paralysis upon waking or falling asleep and is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations. These hallucinations constitute a waking nightmare (w-nightmare) REM experience and are the original referents of the term “nightmare.” W-nightmare hallucinations are described by a three-factor structure involving experiences consistent with 1) threatening intruders, 2) physical assaults, and 3) vestibular-motor (V-M) bodily sensations.
Reading about sleep paralysis is marginally more intriguing than being exposed to Waking Nightmare. By the end of my viewing, I was left wondering if I somehow received an earlier edit of this film from the directors’ film school capstone project. The version I watched looks like a film that was produced in 2010, but its notable cast scrambled my brain: Shelley Regner (Pitch Perfect), Stephen Wu (Brookyln Nine-Nine), the other frog brother from The Lost Boys (Jamison Newlander), alien-human hybrid Yan Birch (The People Under the Stairs) and two ‘80s Icons: Diane Franklin, who played the French foreign exchange student Monique in Better Off Dead, and the all-American werewolf David Naughton.
Shelley Regner plays the sleepwalking-murder-machine Jordan. Diane Franklin plays Jordan’s non-French, nervous mother, and Jamison Newlander, the other frog brother from The Lost Boys, plays the bagel-loving, indifferent, beer-swilling father.
Shelley Renger’s character suffers from horrible nightmares and PTSD from the suicide of her friend Jamie. (Actually, I’m still not 100% sure if Jamie is her friend or her sister?). This trauma causes her to sleepwalk and sleepstab strangers in the middle of the night.
For the first 20 minutes the scenes are a little too realistic, and not in an interesting way, but in a boring way, as if you’re watching the lives of average middle-aged parents dealing with a daughter suffering from sleepwalking in a very typical fashion. Awkward interactions with Jordan’s friends that don’t really add anything to the story are peppered heavily throughout the movie, and whenever they appear on screen, they completely distract from the only interesting element of this movie—the young woman murdering people in her sleep!
A lot of the emotional action is also snooze-inducing, and it’s hard to tell if it’s due to sophomoric dialogue in scenes that don’t really add anything to the plot, or if it’s due to the fake smiles and crude, simian-like mockery of human expression in place of actual acting. Even a visit to David “Dr. Pepper” Naughton is like watching a normal, uneventful doctor visit.
The tagline for Waking Nightmare is “How far would you go for the ones you love?” and, essentially, the heart of this concept is [SPOILER ALERT] a sordid tale of a mother and father protecting their sleepwalking daughter from being arrested for murder. The “twist,” if you can call it that, is that Jordan’s mother (Diane Franklin) and father (Frog Brother #2) have been covering up their daughter’s murders by murdering police officers and other witnesses. This factoid in the story isn’t revealed until about 50 minutes into the movie.
Diane Franklin’s great, gory performance as a frantic killer, carving up a homicide detective with a box cutter is the highlight of the film. If anything, these types of murder scenes should have been the bulk of the movie: less of the friends awkwardly smiling or randomly going for hikes and more of the mother and father murdering everyone their sleepwalking daughter bumps into.
Arguably the first cult horror film about somnambulism, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921), and Waking Nightmare (2023) both bored me. I had to write a report on both of these pictures. I had to write an analysis of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in my freshman English class (pretty boring), and here I am writing a review of Waking Nightmare for my freshman blog-writing class (not a real class, but still boring). Has anything changed? How much time has passed? Have I been half awake all this time just aimlessly wandering the earth? Why are my hands covered in blood?
If only I could get away from all this work and get some actual rest, some real, solid sleep…sleep…perchance to dream…I must find the mysterious Dutchman I met all those years ago in the Catskill Mountains and imbibe his liquor, with the Dutchman’s potent elixir, I can finally fall into a blissful 20-year-slumber and sleepwalk into a future where all we watch are somnambulist movies in a blissful trance without ever having to critique them, OR … I’ll just put on Waking Nightmare before I go to bed. THAT SHOULD KNOCK ME RIGHT OUT.