Marlene, a woman plagued by horrific dreams, suffers a breakdown in a remote village. As her daughter Mona follows, she comes upon a well-kept family secret and an old curse that ultimately threatens her life – a never-ending nightmare.

Sleep‘ has a serious ‘Twin Peaks‘-vibe, with some interesting ideas that feel like a darker version of ‘Inception‘, building an ominous atmosphere. Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof – ‘Ever After‘) even asks a hotel employee at one point what to do when you’re not sure if you’re still in a dream or wide awake, without getting an actual answer. This is the film’s strongest, and at the same time, weakest point. ‘Sleep‘ starts off incredibly solid, with mysterious dreams and drawings that lead to a remote village with a handful of suspiciously friendly people. What doesn’t work is its entire second half.

Characters are being introduced and then you don’t see them anymore for the rest of the film. Director Michael Venus tried to create a complex horror film, but didn’t consider the fact that the entire shift in storytelling could easily come across as rather confusing. The dialogue is also rather basic, to which nothing interesting is being said that could somewhat explain everything that’s going on on screen. Because that’s exactly what Venus’ film could’ve benefited from. Alas, Venus and co-writer Thomas Friedrich overload the film with one too many themes (even an incubus gets mentioned at some point) and they forget to wrap everything up, resulting in a confusing mess. Throw in some jump scares that don’t have a purpose and you get a beautiful looking, but generic horror film that loses its pacing and atmosphere entirely in the second half.

Not all is bad though. There’s some beautiful camera angles and cinematography that go hand in hand with the imposing locations. The other thing that works in its favour is the apt cast that give convincing performances, even though one of the stronger performers – Toni Erdmann‘s Sandra Hüller – gets pushed aside from the very start, to then spent the entirety of the film in a hospital bed. Gro Swantje Kohlhof and August Schmölzer are great, but it’s Marion Kracht who steals the spotlight.

For a debut film, Venus has some very ambitious ideas that show promise. It just seems as if his artistic freedom went total loss, to the point of cinematic unconsciousness. ‘Sleep‘ starts off like a nightmare during REM, to then give you a hard time grasping on to reality, as if you’re trying to wake up from a fever dream.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Sleep‘ will screen as part of Fantasia International Film Festival’s 2020 program. Tickets are available HERE

Fantasia International Film Festival Review – ‘Sleep’

Reviewed at Fantasia International Film Festival (online), August 12, 2020. Running time: 102 min.

PRODUCTION: A Global Screen release of a Junafilm production. Producer: Verena Gräfe-Höft. Co-producer: Christian Cloos.

CREW: Director: Michael Venus. Screenplay: Thomas Friedrich, Michael Venus. Editor: Silke Olthoff. Cinematography: Marius von Felbert. Music: Sebastian Damerius, Johannes Lehniger.

WITH: Gro Swantje Kohlhof, Sandra Hüller, August Schmölzer, Marion Kracht, Agata Buzek, Max Hubacher, Martina Schöne-Radunski, Katharina Behrens, Andreas Anke, Benjamin Heinrich.

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