Gavin Williams’ sci-fi short film Sleepworking explores an interesting premise, that an industry would grow up around people who’ve voluntarily had their brains surgically altered so that they can do the more mundane tasks (copying papers, office drudgery) while asleep, thus allowing them to be more efficient when awake. Hence “sleepworking” is just that, working while asleep.
Under this scenario, we’re introduced to Henry (Stephen Gregory), a novice sleepworker, who is having problems adjusting to his new employment. Veteran Alice (Catherine MacCabe) takes him under her wing, though just as she attempts to allay his fears, his concerns create more doubt for Alice. Soon the two of them are concocting a plan to wake up mid-shift in an effort to find out exactly what is really going on when they’re sleepworking.
If you think you’ve got an idea where this is heading, based on the vague and brief synopsis above, I’d have to say that you might be somewhat right, but probably not altogether correct. Mainly, Sleepworking has more than a few tricks up its sleeve, and folds over itself in a few different ways, leaving to question most of what’s going on, and what it all really means.
Which can be intriguing in some instances and downright confusing in others. I actually watched the short twice, because when it ended the first time, I was slightly lost as to what the conclusion meant. The second watch confirmed some ideas, removed yet others, and I think I have my own grasp of it now, but it took some extra effort. The risk is whether the audience will stay invested in the characters enough to care to make sense of it all by the end.
And I could honestly see an audience going either way on that one. On the one hand, the premise itself is interesting enough that natural curiosity keeps you engaged through the end, and that same curiosity will keep your mind going after it’s over. On the other, there’s a sense of separation from the characters that is hard to bridge and, again, could make you less determined to really think about the film after it wraps.
Overall, though, Sleepworking is a solid piece of science fiction filmmaking with a slick look and professionalism that raises the quality level above average. Whether it leaves you cold or confused will be up to individual interpretation. Personally, again, I thought the narrative foundation was strong enough that it’s okay that the rest of the house left me feeling detached at times; there may be a realistic narrative logic going on, but more often there’s an emotional dream logic that is mirrored by the editing and the performances of the leads, and while that can sometimes seem off-putting, it’s also highly appropriate. I still enjoyed the film enough to watch it twice.
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