Somnium Image


By Bobby LePire | June 22, 2024

Somnium is Racheal Cain’s feature debut as both writer and director. She’s been shepherding the project in one form or another for roughly a decade and a half. As with any passion project, sincerity abounds in its themes and characterizations. However, the pitfall of being so close to a story is the chance that the creator doesn’t see all the barriers blocking audiences from engaging with it. Is that the case here, or does Cain navigate the tricky emotional beats and complex plot in a way viewers will enjoy?

Gemma (Cholë Levine) has just arrived in Los Angeles from a small town in Georgia with aspirations of being an actress. But since that doesn’t happen overnight, she needs to find a job to pay the bills. Gemma winds up with the graveyard shift at the sleep clinic Somnium alongside Noah (Will Peltz). The experimental company puts patients (customers?) under for six weeks, during which their dreams are made a reality. Well, sort of; the institute makes the confidence and drive to achieve those desires a driving force. If it helps, think of Somnium as Rekall-lite.

As with anything that messes with the mind, reality and fantasy sometimes intermingle in the wrong way. Shortly after starting, Gemma starts seeing a contorted pale creature, as well as having nightmares about her terrible break-up with Hunter (Peter Vack) before moving. Its long fingers with claws at the end scrape the wall as she attempts to sleep. Acting-wise, her auditions are going only so-so, though friendly producer Brooks (an unrecognizable Johnathon Schaech) sees potential in her. Is it all a dream fed to Gemma by Somnium, or is everything actually happening? Can she even tell the difference anymore?

“…Gemma starts seeing a contorted pale creature, as well as having nightmares about her terrible break-up…”

Somnium explores desires, heartbreak, and cruelty engagingly. Admittedly, the break-up is not nearly as devastating as Gemma seems to think it is. Yes, Hunter acted like a big jerk, but his rationale makes some sense. Perhaps the point is that she’s making a mountain out of a molehill, but if so, that’s not elaborated on quite enough. Beyond that, the narrative works on a number of levels, especially at the very end.

The way the film intertwines reality and dreams, or perhaps nightmares, is a unique aspect that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. The relatability of the significant trauma Gemma faces, particularly for those who have been told they are not good enough to pursue their dreams, adds a universal appeal. The mystery surrounding the pseudo-Life Extension technology adds just enough sci-fi flavor to differentiate this thriller from others in the genre.

Levine hits all the right notes as the unsure of herself but well-meaning protagonist. Her big audition scene is so good that it’s a wonder she isn’t lined up for bigger features. Peltz is slightly off yet likable. Grace Van Dien has a brief role as Dakota, another aspiring actress. While only in a few scenes, she always elevates everything she is in. Schaech disappears completely as Brooks. When he tells Gemma the differences between him and her, it is heartbreaking yet gentle. This could be some of the best work he’s done, and it is for such a minor role.

Somnium is a compelling thriller with a likable lead. Cain balances reality and dreams perfectly, making their collision all the more impactful. The cast’s terrific, with Levine proving she has what it takes to become the next big star.

For more information, check out the Somnium Instagram page.

Somnium (2024)

Directed and Written: Racheal Cain

Starring: Cholë Levine, Will Peltz, Johnathon Schaech, Peter Vack, Grace Van Dien, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

Somnium Image

"…a compelling thriller with a likable lead."

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