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Waking Nightmare (2023) Review

Waking Nightmare begins appropriately enough with Jordan (Shelley Regner, Pitch Perfect, Monster Killers) waking up screaming from a nightmare. This has been a regular occurrence since her best friend Jamie killed herself. It’s gotten bad enough that she’s moved back home with her parents Danielle (Diane Franklin, The Amityville Murders, Amityville II: The Possession) and Jeff (Jamison Newlander, The Blob, Lost Boys: The Thirst).

A visit from her best friend Zoey (Kelly Leon Guerrero, Death by 1000 Cuts, The Dark Side of the Womb) seems to cheer her up, but that night her nightmares turn into sleepwalking, and while doing that she pulls a knife on her mother. This gets her an appointment with Dr. Doolin (David Naughton, An American Werewolf in London, Big Bad Wolf) who gives her a prescription for Ambien.

The Ambien doesn’t make her start posting racist comments on Twitter, but it doesn’t stop her sleepwalking either. In fact, she ends up walking out of the house where she nearly gets hit while standing in the road. Once the driver sees what condition she’s in, he attempts to take advantage, which leads to him being stabbed to death.

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Brian Farmer (Blue Call) wrote the script and co-directed with Steve Craig (Friends Forever, LA’s Last Parking Spot) get Waking Nightmare off to a distinctly off-beat start with one of the most bizarre credit sequences I’ve seen in a while and a very odd choice of music playing over the stabbing that makes the scene almost surreal.

“Bending the forms of reality is something that has always intrigued me. I was honored to work with my brother in cinema Stephen Craig on Waking Nightmare. Creating the world that the characters lived in, sane and insane in something that bends the visual scape of the genre. People are affected by sleepwalking. The unknown of where you’ll wake up, is truly a Waking Nightmare.”

Brian Farmer, co-director Waking Nightmare

Waking Nightmare’s plot seems to follow a mystery/thriller path at first as Jordan doesn’t seem to remember the killing, but her mother finds her bloody clothes and covers up for her when Detectives McCarter (Brian Tyler Cohen, Knucklebones, The Night Watchers) and Moore (Ryan Bonnick, Erebus, Crazed) start asking questions. There’s also a potentially interesting subplot involving a potential witness that looks like it will complicate matters.

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What actually does complicate matters is that the killings continue when Jordan’s pervert neighbour (Yan Birch, Portal, Terror Tales) makes the same mistake as the first victim. But this time an unseen figure steps in and kills him before he can have his way with her. And that’s when the film takes an unexpected, and nasty twist.

Running seventy-three minutes including credits, Waking Nightmare is a bizarre little film that never quite goes where you expect it to. Farmer and Craig constantly subverted my expectations as the plot swung from mystery to torture porn. That includes the ending and the mid-credits scene, which caps everything off on a sufficiently nasty note.

The filmmakers also constructed montages of cartoon and film clips with odd musical choices to reflect Jordan’s state of mind. They come from a wide variety of sources, I recognized snippets from The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Messiah of Evil among others. The results are weirdly disorienting and disturbing.

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The film’s main problem, however, may be that it tries a little too hard to keep the viewer off guard and introduces too many elements. Several ideas are introduced and then almost instantly discarded. Others are left floating unconnected to the plot that includes a couple that should have developed a bit more, such as Jordan’s tendency to sleepwalk towards the nearest would-be rapist.

Despite that, Waking Nightmare is an above-average film that should satisfy viewers. There’s an interesting plot, a cast full of familiar faces, including a cameo by Helene Udy (The Haunting of the Lady-Jane, My Bloody Valentine) as a crime scene photographer. There’s even, despite a relatively low body count, a bit of practical gore.

Terror Films will release Waking Nightmare to VOD Platforms on August 18th.

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