A town terrified of the shadows yet too stupid to turn on some lights.
Dean is afraid. Something is circling the house, threatening his and his family’s lives, and in the middle of the chaos he heads out with a gun to face the creature. Bad call. While he’s out in the darkness the darkness enters the house and abducts his daughter. Sometime later a new family arrives in the small town including Dr. John Chambers (Brian Krause, Sleepwalkers), his wife Heather (Jaimi Paige), and their son Nathan (Michael Leone). John’s older son Ben (Jared Abrahamson), from a previous marriage, visits too, and over the next few days, they begin experiencing strange phenomena.
John and Heather suffer from sleep paralysis where they’re awake but unable to move as something menacing shifts at the edge of their peripheral vision. Ben comes face to face with the creature at the heart of it all. And young Nathan is drawn to a nearby cave in the woods which just may be home to the beast that wants him.
Be Afraid is the latest in a small string of horror movies centered (at least in part) on the idea of sleep paralysis including The Man in the Shadows, the doc The Nightmare, and the upcoming Dead Awake. Director Drew Gabreski and writer Gerald Nott craft a somewhat familiar setup with competent execution, but the film fails to hit the mark where it matters most.
The first element holding the film back is the darkness. Cinematographer Scott Peck captures some compelling images from the creature’s appearances to the cave geography, but far too much of the film is presented in such ridiculous darkness. The worst instances are indoors, and while it hurts the film’s atmosphere — not being able to see what’s happening can do that — the bigger issue with it sits alongside the script. The creature exists in the shadows and off to dimly-lit sides of their vision. Common sense would say to turn some lights on, to turn all of the damn lights on, but instead, the family chooses to live in poorly-lit terror. It’s enough to leave viewers caring less about their fates, and that’s a death knell for a horror film.
The sleep paralysis bit is also a knock against the experience. There’s an audience for it of course of viewers who may be more affected by it as a narrative tool, but (here and in similar films) it feels too much like a lazy way to incapacitate characters (despite a doctor in the film saying everyone will experience it in their lives). Like hypnosis or mind control, it robs characters of their own agency leaving the field wide open for a filmmaker to cheat their way to certain visuals or story beats. Its relevance to the grand narrative here involving the creature’s desire for children also fails to tie together all that well.
It’s not all bad news as the performances are solid almost across the board, and as stated above the film looks good — when light isn’t an issue anyway. There are some intriguing and unnerving moments involving the creature with the film’s opening being its most intense and some later shimmering glimpses teasing the threat. The script also attempts an interesting reveal in its third act that, while not wholly effective, works to grab viewers’ attention just a little bit tighter.
Being scared, much like finding something funny, is a subjective reaction meaning what one person finds frightening may land blandly with the next. Some of you will find Be Afraid to be a scary and engaging horror film. Most of you though will not, so… be wary.
Be Afraid is currently available on VOD.
Related Topics: Horror