The Movie Waffler New Release Review - SLEEP | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - SLEEP

New Release Review - SLEEP
An expectant mother fears something sinister is behind her husband's increasingly disturbing nocturnal habits.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jason Yu

Starring: Jung Yu-mi, Lee Sun-kyun, Kim Gook-hee, Kim Geum-soon, Seo Yi-sook

Sleep poster

If the job of a horror filmmaker is to create nightmares, perhaps it's no surprise that so many horror movies have explored the idea of what we experience while we sleep. Usually it's in the form of nightmares that threaten to escape the protagonist's subconscious and infiltrate the real world, ala Nightmare on Elm Street. With his feature debut Sleep, writer/director Jason Yu has flipped this idea. The apprehension here isn't generated by our fears over what might happen to someone as they sleep, but what that sleeping person might do to others while in a somnambulistic state.

Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi) and Hyeon-soo (Lee Sun-kyun, who sadly passed away before he could enjoy the fruits of his newfound fame courtesy of his role in Oscar winner Parasite) are happily married and expecting their first child. One night Hyeon-soo suddenly jolts up in bed and proclaims "Someone's inside!" This freaks out Soo-jin, especially as her husband is in an unresponsive catatonic state. Sneaking downstairs she discovers all is well and returns to bed. The following morning Hyeon-soo claims to have no recollection of the incident.

Sleep review

It's merely the beginning of a series of increasingly disturbing mishaps that befall Hyeon-soo in his sleeping hours. He scratches his face so badly that it all but kills his budding acting career. Soo-jin finds him eating raw meat and crunching on raw eggs in the middle of the night. When Soo-jin discovers the family dog frozen in their fridge, it's time for Hyeon-soo to get professional help.

Soo-jin ignores her mother's pleas to seek spiritual advice and instead takes her hubby to a doctor who prescribes medicine and gives some advice on how best to live with the condition. When the pills prove useless and the couple's baby arrives, Hyeon-soo offers to rent an apartment so he can sleep alone and avoid putting their newborn at risk. Soo-jin is having none of this suggestion, insisting that they have to work through their problems together. But as she starts to grow increasingly paranoid about the threat her husband poses to her baby, Soo-jin decides to take her mother's advice and enlist the aid of a shaman (Kim Geum-soom).

Sleep review

What makes Yu's film so distinctive is how it plays with the classic horror trope of the rational protagonists who are forced to seek unconventional help in the form of a religious or spiritual figure. This figure usually saves the day, but in Sleep the arrival of a shaman only serves to make things far worse. While Soo-jin and Hyeung-soo's relationship was previously tested by his condition, they now find themselves bickering over philosophical differences. Hyeung-soo laughs off the shaman's suggestion that a demon is inhabiting his body while he sleeps, but Soo-jin buys into the idea. Where Hyeung-soo initially posed a potential threat to Soo-jin, the reverse becomes true as her paranoia leads her to view Hyeung-soo not as her husband but as a demon in her husband's body.

Yu wisely keeps the truth ambiguous, and even as the credits roll viewers will be debating what exactly they just witnessed. Sleep can either be interpreted as a straightforward supernatural thriller or an examination of how desperate people can be radicalised by religion when they can't find solutions elsewhere.

Sleep review

The final act veers into disturbing and visceral territory but much of the film is played for laughs. Yu successfully balances the black comedy with the growing tension. The more laughable the scenario gets, the more sinister it becomes as it's clear Soo-jin and Hyeung-soo are out of their depth. A lot of humour is generated by Hyeong-soo's indifference to the effect his condition is having on his wife, because he's asleep when every bit of madness occurs. Sun-kyun has a talent for making us laugh simply by pretending to be asleep; there's something indefinably hilarious about the blank expression on his dozing face. Anyone who knows the frustration of a spouse who is able to sleep while a baby yells will feel for Soo-jin's predicament, but will have to laugh at the comedy the situation generates.

Yu pokes fun at the trite framed and wood-carved homilies with which Soo-jin has adorned the walls of her home, giving it the impression of a giant Instagram page. In the final act they're replaced by yellow strips adorned with prayers and incantations as Soo-jin completely loses the plot. Yu appears to suggest that the self-help industry is simply the modern world's evolution of shamanism, but he leaves it up to the viewer to ultimately decide if that's a positive or a negative.

Sleep is in UK/ROI cinemas from July 12th.

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