Thursday, June 01, 2017

Be Afraid: Sleep Paralysis Strikes Again

Dr. John Chambers’ medical training would come in handy if a group of Leatherface slashers were stalking his family. Unfortunately (in many respects), it is the Hat Man and the Shadow People who are terrorizing his young son. He can see them too, which never bodes well for characters in Drew Gabreski’s Be Afraid (trailer here), now available on VOD.

Chambers relocated his family to rural Pennsylvania, assuming it would be a relief from the stress of his former emergency room gig. At first, it is just him, his second wife Heather, and their son Nathan, but they are soon joined by Ben, his son from his late first wife, who has just dropped/flunked/been kicked out of college. The nocturnal bogeymen who were the subject of Rodney Ascher’s terrifying documentary The Nightmare immediately target Nathan, but Dr. Chambers isn’t sleeping so great either.

In addition to the dream realm, these shadowy figures also seem to hold some sort of dominion over a profoundly unsafe-looking tunnel in the woods. Being sinister entities, they assume the guise of their previous victim to lure Nathan into the ominous aperture. You would think the local authorities would seal that up, but they don’t seem to be so hot, judging from Martin Collins, the squirrely police chief.

Frankly, Ascher’s Nightmare so thoroughly owns the sleep paralysis phenomenon, any subsequent film featuring the Hat Man and his cohorts (including prospective Nightmare on Elm Street reboots) will suffer by comparison. In fact, Gerald Nott’s screenplay cheats a little. Mostly, they are creatures of dreams but sometimes they also seem to assume physical corporality.

On the plus side, the characters and their relationships are unusually well defined for a straight forward horror flick. This is especially true of Ben, nicely played by Jared Abrahamson, who is not at all the resentful problem child clichĂ© he would probably be in a lazier film. In fact, his affection for Nathan and friendly acceptance of Heather is rather appealing. Brian Krause (who was rock solid in the shockingly good Plan 9 remake) also has reassuring everyman vibe that suits Dr. Chambers. As a bonus, Kevin Grevioux contributes a terrific horror movie voice as Dean Booth, the unstable, grieving father of Nathan’s new playmate.

Gabreskie (who has previously specialized in behind-the-scenes MMA documentaries) maintains a creepy atmosphere, while keeping the human element front-and-center. Viewers will be surprised how much they invest in the Chambers family, because the horror business is really nothing special. Recommended for genre fans who can appreciate a modest release that exceeds expectations, Be Afraid launches today (6/1) on VOD platforms, including iTunes.