Rick Bieber’s latest directorial effort is being released on the same day as the remake of Flatliners, the original 1990 version of which he produced. Whether or not that’s a coincidence, this tedious slog of a horror movie isn’t likely to provide much competition. Notable only for featuring Alex Rocco in his last screen role, Don’t Sleep practically begs audiences to defy its ill-chosen title.
The film begins with a prologue in which a young boy experiences a terrorizing nightmare set in a graveyard. That’s followed by an onscreen quotation from Nietzsche, which is the first sign that we’re in for heavy going. The little boy is subsequently sent by his concerned mother (Jill Hennessy) to see a shrink played by Cary Elwes, which is the second sign that we’re in for heavy going. Later that night, the mother checks in on her son, who suddenly starts sounding like Mercedes McCambridge’s gravelly demonic voice in The Exorcist. That’s the third sign.
Cut to 13 years later, when the now grown young boy, Zach (Dominic Sherwood), a law student, and his girlfriend Shawn (Charlbi Dean Kriek) rent a room in a cozy guest house owned by a married couple (Alex Carter and Drea de Matteo, the latter deserving better than this after getting whacked on The Sopranos).
Things at first seem idyllic. So much so that Shawn dreamily tells Zach, "I just want to feel like this forever," which in horror films is the cue for things to immediately start going wrong. And so they do, although not before Shawn takes a nice hot shower, which gorgeous women in horror films are very prone to do. Any guesses why?
To say that plotting is not the film’s strong suit is putting it mildly. It has something to do with menacing hooded figures popping up periodically, looking not so much demonic as badly in need of dental work and acne medication. Zach also begins acting more than a little strangely, finally demonstrating that he’s truly possessed by a malevolent force when he and Shawn have sex and he takes her from behind, standing up. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the mystery revolves around the shrink’s unorthodox treatment of his child patient years earlier, because by the time it’s revealed, most viewers will have long since tuned out.
Wasting the talents of its several veteran performers, Don’t Sleep represents a sad career coda for Rocco, who so memorably portrayed Moe Green in The Godfather. Even getting shot in the eye seems more dignified.
Production company: MiNDS I CiNEMA
Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media
Cast: Drea de Matteo, Cary Elwes, Dominic Sherwood, Charlbi Dean Kriek, Jill Hennessy, Alex Rocco
Director-screenwriter-producer: Rick Bieber
Executive producer: Ken Clark
Director of photography: Ian Fox
Production designer: Lee Yaniv
Editor: Shilpa Sahi
Costume designer: Janet Ingram
Composer: Andy Mendelson