Slumber (Movie Review)

Slumber (Movie Review)
6 10

PLOT: A level-headed sleep doctor (Maggie Q) is forced to reconcile with her traumatic past when a family she’s treating comes under the sinister spell of a nocturnal demon known as the Night Hag.

REVIEW: With a good decade spent sharpening his tools over the course of three short films, writer/director Jonathan Hopkins has turned in an assured, above average feature debut via SLUMBER, a sleep paralysis thriller that, while certainly tilling familiar territory, ultimately blooms its own baleful bract of folkloric Boogeymen in a way that sets itself apart. That is, while the whiff of everything from ELM STREET and INSIDIOUS to THE BABADOOK and DEAD AWAKE isn’t likely to escape the attention of many, a few wicked wrinkles are added to the lazily, misleadingly titled SLUMBER that makes its particular brand of sinister somnolence a subtle standout.

Put it this way, do you remember Rodney Ascher’s 2015 movie THE NIGHTMARE? Well, it took this very idea of a paralytic sleep demon knows as the Night Hag and turned it into an unneeded faux-documentary with dramatic reenactments. In my review of that film, I lamented this very narrative decision, opining that the film would have worked far better had it chose a single lane – fiction or nonfiction - and rode in it entirely. In opting for the former, SLUMBER does precisely this. And while it’s far from perfect, a ways from great, the plotted story and dogged performances amount the movie to being slightly over par. Don’t sleep on SLUMBER!

Dr. Alice Arnolds (Maggie Q) is a pragmatic sleep doctor who’s seemingly overcome her traumatic past. As the film opens, we learn that as a kid, she witnessed her brother Liam (William Rhead) die from a sleepwalking episode that ended with him falling out of a second story window. A shadowy INSIDIOUS-like Boogeyman tricked him to do so, invisibly unbeknownst to Alice. Dedicated to the cause 30 years later, now a mother to Niamh (Grace Schneider) and wife to Tom (Will Kemp), the good doc has devoted her profession to helping others with debilitating sleep disorders. Deathly debilitating!

A new patient, Daniel Morgan (Lucas Bond), is admitted to Dr. Arnolds’ sleep facility with quite the curious case. Victimized by intensely violent fits of sleep paralysis – in which the young boy is helplessly held down in his own bed by a petrifying supernatural force – these stints are made all the more alarming by the trend that, each time it happens, Daniel’s mother Sarah (Kristen Bush), father Charlie (Sam Troughton) and little sister Emily (Honor Kneafsey) all encounter their own individual somnambulant night terrors…at the same damn time. Synchronized sleepwalking nightmares of varying magnitudes!

This is freaky stuff. For instance, the first time we see Daniel paralyzed in his sleep, each one of his family members encounters their own nightmarishly terrifying tangent as well. His dad rocks an imaginary baby back and forth in a chair, his mom blindly operates a food blender, his sister ambles around the house with a large pair of pruning shears, etc. Each nightmare preys upon their personal deep-seeded fears and anxieties, yet somehow occurs at the exact same time. More vexing still, as their unwaking dread violently intensifies, the attention of each person becomes too far diverted to help the increasingly endangered Daniel, who continues to futilely suffocate while thrashing around in the sheets. And not to spoil much more, it’s all done by the devious, deliberate designs of one deleterious demon known as Nocnitsa – The Night Hag!

It comes as a relatively cool new twist on the growing subset of sleep-based horror/thrillers that, refreshingly, we’ve not seen in the past. And it’s precisely this aspect that notches the flick a slight cut above the rest. Even when Alice begins to flashback to her own petrifying past, the link between her childhood trauma and her new family of patients feels credibly explicated by the end, neither false nor forced, and stays tightly bonded despite a rather ho-hum, stock-standard third act climax. Maggie Q, so gorgeous it’s hard to focus on anything but, gives more than a serviceably lived-in performance here. She strikes the right emotive balance – never too high or low – that gives her character a credibly cared-for sensibility. She’s strong and capable, yes, but always sensitive and vulnerable as well. We definitely need to see more dramatic work from her in the future!

Yet, SLUMBER is at its absolute best when exploring the lurid lore of The Night Hag’s itself. In addition to some authentically chilling testimonials and ancient artwork superimposed over the opening credits of the film, it’s when Dr. Arnolds does a deep dive on the internet to research what is known in Russian folklore as Nocnitsa – a dark, demonic female figure that visits children in their sleep and feeds in their fears – that the movie feels most fearsomely fascinating. This creature is not from the material world or the dream world, instead lives in the cracks in between. This is a distinction that is articulated with alarming aplomb, and reinforced visually with almost equal effectiveness. That is, until a late low-budget CGI rendering almost threatens to tip the overall tone into the realm of the cartoonish. Alas, Hopkins and co-writer Richard Hobley inherently know, given their lack of resources, how often to shroud the ghoul and when and how much of it should be depicted when absolutely called for.

Never mind the uninspired title (should have been called NOCNITSA), SLUMBER is a bit more likely to make you lose sleep than find it!

Extra Tidbit: SLUMBER hits select theaters this Friday, December 1st.
Source: AITH



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