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Review : Dead Asleep – Awakening Documentary

Documentarian Skye Borgman takes the reins on an unbelievable story in this new film


Can you name a genre that is faster growing than true documentaries? It is almost a daily occurrence that some film or docuseries drops on a major streaming service (probably like 99% of which are on Netflix. But not for this one. Our attention heads to Hulu to look at the latest true documentary hoping to capture the imagination of audiences. But this one just might be a bit different from the rest. Documentarian Skye Borgman takes the reins on an unbelievable story in this new film, Dead Asleep.

Have you ever slept walk before? When I was younger, I was known to occasionally travel around in my sleep. One time I sat on a bean bag chair with no pants or underwear on. Why? Only those thoughts in my head could ever explain it. But our society has a specific perspective of what sleepwalking is. It is a much different experience. Borgman can wrangle some top-notch sleep and expects to give perspective on this phenomenon. But this case boasts quite the horrible twist of fate. What happens if your sleep makes you unaware of an absolute tragedy. Worse…what happens if you are the one to perpetrate this horrible act? That is the heart of this investigation Borgman is trying to accomplish. What happens when a young man kills one of the most important friends in their life…and they do not remember a thing?

What is Borgman able to accomplish with this incredibly crazy story? I had the pleasure of sitting with Borgman over Zoom to discuss this new film of hers. She discussed her background in documentaries and how it prepared her for the investigation (calling witnesses, police, and loved ones). You can tell from watching Dead Asleep that some of these interactions are heavily emotional and difficult to watch. The nature of this case adds complexity to the tale. How can you villainize someone who cannot even remember what they did? Especially if this tragedy was done to this dear friend? The interviews with the families are devastating and one profoundly expresses the dire nature of this story (“there are just no winners in this situation”). This unique story makes for a special kind of true crime story.

In what other ways does this film avoid the expectations and tropes of true documentaries? Borgman expressed her real intentions in the interview which can be seen through her film. Dead Asleep is not about whodunnit and if this young man was really sleeping or not. The film instead focuses on the misunderstandings of what sleep walking is and the effects it can have on people’s lives. There is quality commentary from experts (the intellect of the film) and there are emotional pieces that capture the hurt that comes from tragedy (the heart of the film). The film is also structured in a meaningful way which keeps the audience on edge. Borgman wavered between believing this young man and seeing through lies he might be making. The film carries you on the same rollercoaster of truths and emotions.

Why should you be checking out Dead Asleep? This is not your standard true crime affair. Sure, it has those elements and tropes and will quench that thirst but the film delivers on a different level. There are plenty of emotions that are packed in this tragic story. There is plenty to learn about the true nature of sleepwalking. Who says you cannot learn and feel with the same film? Borgman proves you can with her passionate and enthralling documentary.

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