What if your pain cripples your life so strongly that you have a soreness in your soul that will not be medicated away? The fog of mental troubles can be an unpleasant layer in life as it hides recriminations, causes lost dreams, and unleashes torturous pain, much of which is revealed in Paris Dylan’s profoundly well-thought horror film Dying to Sleep. The picture is based somewhat on the classic ghost story The Signalman by Charles Dickens with a healthy dose of the Millennium television series.
Writer/director/producer Paris Dylan is Joe, the brother of the tormented central figure Mary (Sarah Lydia Sophia). Mary is battling sleep deprivation brought on by the powerful image of the shadowy figure of a boy dressed in a back hoodie. The figure appears fleetingly out of the corner of her eye, across streets, staring at her in windows always elusive. Mary is under the care of Dr. Ted Palmer (Eric Roberts), who severely medicates her with a drug cocktail. He’s sympathetic to her plight, also blustering to the point of being the scientific anchor like the demonic medical authority Dr. Saperstein from Rosemary’s Baby.
Mary comes from a broken family, which is shown when her birthday get-together at home becomes an exercise in verbal barbs, arguments, insinuations, and drunken excuses. The family matriarch, Helen (Maria Pinsent), father Martin (Roy Abramsohn), and brother Joe all spar and parry blows, revealing secrets to Mary and the astonished guests Tom (Jataun Gilbert) and yoga-loving Jen (Victoria Baldesarra). The cast works well together, and each of the film’s inhabitants has their own dynamic, wonderful underplayed, as Mary is acted upon in true horror film tradition. Mary seeks help from a reclusive holistic doctor, Frank Cyrus (Dar Dixon), who opens the doors of a cure and bitter self-realizations that foretell a destiny.
“Mary is battling sleep deprivation brought on by the powerful image of the shadowy figure…”
Dying to Sleep is similar in scope to Ruth Paxton’s redemptive parable, A Banquet, which treads the veins of family secrets, restorative treatments, and mental troubles at a terrible cost. Mary’s love of girls is wonderfully handled in a moment with her friend Jen (Victoria Baldesarra) in a car, sharing a small confessional moment almost results in a kiss between them. The thrill is that Jen set boundaries that she likes boys in a subtle, direct way that friends would do. It is heavy stuff for a film that shifts gears, moving remarkably fast with clips, dialogue, and solid shot selection, particularly in the domestic scenes.
The actors have good moments with their copious dialogue, projecting a feeling of being trapped on a treadmill fueled by secrets. It has been said that older children will, in turn, parent their parents somehow. Be it tending to them when aged, catering to needs, or, in this case, Mary listening to a confession of guilt from the mother (Maria Pinsent) that oddly becomes self-serving only to the mother.
Dying to Sleep slowly burns its way without many jump scares or much gore, if any. Instead, it substitutes characterizations, desires to heal, and redemption. The other world is restless and comes forward with a force to reckon with, just not in terms of ghostly apparitions. To sleep perchance to dream.
"…shifts gears, moving remarkably fast with clips, dialogue, and solid shot selection..."