Sleep No More

A sleep-deprived mind can be a dangerous, self-destructive engine; or at least that is the warning in this weird, warped cinematic oddity. Phillip Guzman returns to the world of sleepy horror with an 80’s throwback involving graduate students conducting a sleep deprivation thesis study. Initially brimming with creative potential and a deeply interesting core theme, Sleep No More is marred by subpar visual effects, exhaustive repetition, and infuriatingly inconsistent logic.

Dated in 1986, a group of graduate students is in the midst of human trials testing a new injection that will “cure sleep” after the human mind has been awake for over 200 hours. However, when the test subject Carter (Lukas Gage) ends up committing a gory suicide, Dr. Whatley (Yasmine Aker), the head of the trials, is put on indefinite suspension, leaving the rest of her graduate team to fend for themselves. Joe (Keli Price) convinces the others that the only way to change the world is to finish the experiment, with themselves as the test subjects. Though they run toward certain enlightenment, they chase a darker, bloodier side that would be better off unknown.

“…the only way to change the world is to finish the experiment, with themselves as the test subjects.”

Firstly, I dig Marc Vanocur’s original score and the appropriated 80’s soundtrack. It fits the mood and tone perfectly, and is even fun at times, replicating the nature of B-horror films of the same era. The film intersperses VHS footage, involving the sleep-deprived characters relaying research data. It marks the only times throughout the film where complete objectivity about what’s happening exists; it’s a really nice touch. Each actor portrays a signature character trope (pretty damn well), always harkening back to the staples of the genre. However, that’s where the praise ends.

While excluding a handful of easy continuity errors in the first half, the film has a pretty solid foundation, which is mercilessly butchered in the final act. The snappy character dynamics give way to overly-long sequences of padded dialogue and slow walking from room to room. Conversations mostly repeat what another recent exchange had already covered while adding nothing new to the audience’s understanding. While each character has a quirk in their personality making them more susceptible to the side-effects of sleep deprivation and hysteria, all of the shock/horror elements are illogically prepped and impress little beyond some decent practical effects work.

“…makes the Dementors in the Harry Potter franchise seem as scary as Sadako from Ringu.”

These lackluster elements slosh together into a different monstrosity when it comes to the CGI effects. Let’s just say it makes the Dementors in the Harry Potter franchise seem as scary as Sadako from Ringu. Its use quickly becomes a stale gimmick with absolutely no tension; the film’s central themes would be better served if we saw much less. Actually, the whole film would be much better served by being trimmed of about 15 minutes of excess fat.

While it got its hooks in me early (especially with a damn decent opening credits sequence), and kept me sincerely invested for a sizable duration, Sleep No More is a murky slog of bland plodding that can only be described as disappointing.

Sleep No More (2018) Directed by Phillip Guzman. Written by Jason Murphy. Starring Keli Price, Brea Grant, Stephen Ellis, Christine Dwyer, Yasmine Aker.

4 out of 10

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