Sleeper hits are always a joy to come by, but even more so when the film is particularly bold, proactive, and revelatory. Especially at festivals, it’s always a pleasure to come by one of these little gems, and examine them like a diamond in the rough. But then there’s the other kind of sleeper hits, some just as bold and innovative but arguably even more baffling and confounding. Films that sit with you for days on end, as shots, images, and even dialogue keep streaming through your head, as you piece together and think about the film that you’ve just witnessed. The aptly titled Sleep falls right into this threshold. This German psychological horror is a righteous frenzy of the sensitive mind; a warping unpredictable shock of terror that will leave viewers pleasantly puzzled.
Famed German actress Sandra Hüller plays a distressed mother in Sleep, an ironic step up from her role as a daughter in her most arguably acclaimed film Toni Erdmann. Although she’s more of a supporting character in this film, the few scenes where she’s actually performing in, add a sense of hysteric unease due to her muted facial complexions and erratic performance. Her co-star and lead of the film Swantje Kohlhof also delivers a very timid and ambiguous role, in which the usage of silence comes into deafening effect.
Color psychology is looming in every corner in Sleep, where the pale drab colors of the real world both contrast the dream-scape and the mental state between mother and daughter. As things gently become more violent in nature, the more information is mentioned regarding the contextual past that links all of the characters together. In some ways, there’s no real clear cut answer. It’s an adventurous enigma of grandiose scale.
Although for my own money, I believe the film is commenting on the cycles of vengeance against the rise of nationalism, modernity, and industrialization in Germany. Where the hotel in the film represents the guilt of the institution itself, the failed accomplishments, and the future of the residence; the location is a manipulative tool to not only entrap the characters but to also reiterate the merging of the past with the present. Two timelines of different people and identities clashing together in senseless psychological warfare. In this time, the characters explore their own personalities, as additional themes of eroticism, guilt, and remorse are explored ever so briefly in its final act. Which is a shame, since Venus clearly had something conversation-worthy in mind, which ended up becoming staggeringly head-scratching in execution.
Set against a supernatural backdrop, Sleep blurs the line between narrative and figurative experimentation. A film about deadly aspirations and apparitions, Michael Venus’ unconventional horror is a slightly forgettable thrill ride. While not particularly clear in concept or even execution, it’s the moods and emotions which drive the film’s light plot. Cold in nature and ambitious in direction, Sleep is a delirious mind-bender of body and soul, that fails to connect on a more sophisticated spiritual level.
Dir: Michael Venus
Scr: Thomas Friedrich
Cast: Max Hubacher, Sandra Hueller, Swantje Kohlhof
Run time: 102 minutes
Sleep screened digitally at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, as part of the festival’s official selection. The film is currently seeking UK distribution, with Global Screen handling worldwide sales.