Sleep No More Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by RLJE Films
Directed by Phillip Guzman
Written by Jason Murphy
2018, 91 minutes, Not Rated
Release on October 2nd, 2018
Keli Price as Joe
Brea Grant as Frannie
Stephen Ellis as Dale
Christine Dwyer as Holly
Yasmine Aker as Dr. Whatley
There are very few aspects of the human condition that are as analyzed and studied as sleep. It’s a precious commodity that you literally cannot be deprived of for long without suffering some terrible side effects. Sleep is where the best healing takes place, mentally and physically. What if you could go without it for long enough to awaken a new stage of evolution, though? Would you? Should you? That’s the question director Phillip Guzman (Dead Awake) tackles in Sleep No More.
Dr. Whatley (Yasmine Aker, 12 Strong) is leading a groundbreaking experiment in sleep deprivation/elimination using a new drug called Cogniphan. The aim of the study is “cure sleep” and open a new stage of human evolution, one that sees human beings increasing mental capacity and productivity. Her subjects are a group of graduate students- Joe (Keli Price, The Sound of Magic), Frannie (Brea Grant, Dead Night), Dale (Stephen Ellis, Delivery Man), and Holly (Christine Dwyer, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert). Their goal is to stay awake 200 hours, thereby reaching the point of lucidity and a new awakening. Unfortunately, they’re all seeing terrifying apparitions as the threshold approaches. What have they tapped into?
By now, virtually everyone has seen the infamous Russian Sleep Experiment Creepypasta that’s been circulating the internet for a few years. Clearly there is some inspiration here, but the homage aspect of Sleep No More is much more in the vein of the classic 1990 thriller, Flatliners. These are grad students going off the reservation and conducting a clandestine experiment with potentially mind-altering and/or lethal results. There’s a relationship between the doc and the male lead. There’s a quirky comic-relief guy – you get the idea. The beats are very similar without being any kind of ripoff. If anything, it’s a more fitting (and obviously horror-centric) companion piece than the awful 2017 remake.
While the premise may not be the most stunningly original thing ever captured by a camera lens, the reason behind the horrors and the explanation thereof is unique. The creatures that everyone is seeing are not hallucinations but pissed off beings that don’t appreciate being deprived of their food source – your dreams! That’s right…they’ve always been with us in a symbiotic relationship that Dr. Whatley’s ill-fated experiment is screwing up. It’s a cleverly written and constructed premise that (to the best of my knowledge, anyways) hasn’t been used before.
The message is simple and timeless, though: human beings aren’t meant to meddle in certain areas, and maybe science isn’t meant to unlock every mystery.
The visuals are tight and claustrophobic, with most of the action taking place indoors in a centrally located space. The score is something of an entity of its own, at times reminiscent of The Thing, broken by interludes of well known ‘80s pop. The creatures produce plenty of auditory tricks of their own. Sleep No More is made for a true surround sound experience.
The look of the creatures is a bit vanilla, a CGI creation of inky black smoke and fiery skull countenance. Something a little more practical would have been the icing on the cake from an SFX standpoint. There are, however, a couple of moments of excellent gore that work on a visceral level. At least it wasn’t all CGI.
Sleep No More is an ambitious horror-thriller that pays homage to an underutilized sub-genre in effective fashion while leaving a runner or two on base, despite all-around excellent performances from a young cast. It’s still worth losing some sleep over.