Remember when a group of people going into the woods was a bad idea for all those involved in the movies? Well, it’s still a bad idea. Most moviegoers have caught up with this and attempted to play around with it; none more successful than Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods.
But that didn’t stop people from spawning a whole nest of rip-offs and kitschy throwbacks. Shine a light on the flaws and the uninspired feel, thinking they are the ones to make it all fresh again. Not many people saw Sebastian Silva’s Magic Magic, a twist on the genre that explored mental illness, isolation and social awkwardness. One of those people though may have just been Mona Fastvold whose film, The Sleepwalker, covers many of the same beats but is nowhere near as unnerving, interesting or worth a curiosity as that other trip.
Kaia (Gitte Witt) is taking a trip back to the Massachusetts home of her childhood. Along with boyfriend Andrew (Christopher Abbott), they plan to spend some time together while fixing up the joint he once worked on with her father, the original architect. A call comes through in the middle of the night from Kaia’s estranged sister, Christine (Stephanie Ellis), who is alone at the train station. The discomfort in the couple’s weekend is further escalated by another unwelcome visitor, Christine’s significant other Ira (Brady Corbet), who is the upper class opposite of Andrew’s quick-tempered blue-collar manly man.
Christine tempers the tension initially with the announcement that she’s pregnant. Unfortunately this means that she’s off her regular prescriptions, and soon her sleepwalking becomes a further element of stress. Waking up to see your sister with her hand down her panties wouldn’t be nearly as shocking if Kaia saw what Michael Cera woke up to when Juno Temple pulled a similar stunt in Magic Magic.
Shock value aside, the screenplay by actress-turned-director Mona Fastvold and co-star Brady Corbet is full of surface-level metaphors. Christine’s sleepwalking masks the obvious trauma that has existed between the two sisters going back to their youth. Plus, what better way to suggest repairing it than putting the house back together again; the very one that partially burned down and left Kaia with scar tissue over sensitive parts of her body? This is not deep stuff from Fastvold no matter how many repeat shots and drawn-out pieces of the simplistic puzzle she wants to lay out.
The greatest suspense the film has to offer is just how long it is going to take for the tension between the two males to boil over rather than the sisters, who are supposed to be the film’s central relationship. When one character eventually goes missing, the others quickly drift away as well, basically amounting to them being as tired of dealing with the situation and one another as the audience is. The opposing personalities of the sisters barely register as anything beyond slightly withdrawn and slightly outgoing. The drabness of the cinematography may accurately reflect the weather and the mood of the piece, but without even the spark of a fire to warm us up one is left wishing they booked a trip to someplace with more passion. Like Siberia.