Mysteries don’t get much more listless than Meredith Danluck’s State Like Sleep, in which a famous actor’s widow (Katerine Waterston) decides, a year after his suicide, to start wondering just what happened in the days before he pulled the trigger. Her exploration is complicated by a family health scare on one hand and a charismatic stranger (Michael Shannon) on the other. While the character’s loss of all her life’s reference points may be what the film’s odd title is meant to suggest, many viewers will find the moniker a better description of their experience than the protagonist’s.
Waterston’s Katherine was in a seemingly blissful phase of young love with Michael Huisman’s Stefan Delvoe (referred to throughout as “Belgian actor Stefan Delvoe”) when the marriage suddenly fell apart. Though the pic’s back-and-forth storytelling (which uses Katherine’s stylishly short hair to indicate when we’re in the present tense) takes a long time explaining, it seems their problems were mostly due to paparazzi pics showing the actor with a mysterious blonde. Before she even finished moving out of their Brussels loft, Katherine found Stefan dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, having ingested most of Belgium’s narcotics supply in the days prior to his suicide.
It would seem that Katherine left the country immediately afterward, and now returns from the U.S. a year later only because her mother has a stroke there. The two must deal with Stefan’s mother, Anneke (Julie Khaner), a possessive woman who managed his finances and is now selling the loft; while assessing the mess in a place that (bizarrely) hasn’t been cleaned since Stefan’s bender, Katherine discovers some clues to his final days.
She winds up in a haute-sleazy nightclub whose Eurotrash proprietor Emile (played by a bleached-blonde Luke Evans) claims to have been Stefan’s best friend. But instead of pushing for details of her husband’s vices, Katherine allows herself to be picked up by a man whose comically exotic fetish leaves her standing on end. (This brief encounter, under-exploited as it is, is livelier than anything else in the picture.)
She also stumbles backward into a wary-friendly expat connection with Shannon’s Edward, whose business in town is summed up in the script by “I travel a lot.” He’s bad news — or maybe he’s a sincere man behaving badly in the throes of loneliness. The movie doesn’t seem to think we should care, but at least Shannon is a sturdy presence against whom our meandering hero can bounce.
Danluck’s unfocused direction makes Katherine less a grief-struck enigma than a dull somnambulist, and the film’s copious flashbacks, instead of drawing us into the character’s confused emotions, mostly suggest that the pic can’t decide how to tell its story. The answers, once they arrive, are pretty unsatisfying, even if they give Waterston a welcome opportunity to let a look of relief settle briefly on her face.
Production company: Sight Unseen Productions
Distributor: The Orchard
Cast: Katherine Waterston, Michael Shannon, Michiel Huisman, Luke Evans, Mary Kay Place, Julie Khaner
Director-screenwriter: Meredith Danluck
Producers: Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez, Eddie Vaisman
Executive producers: Daniel Bekerman, P. Jennifer Dana, Ross Jacobson
Director of photography: Christopher Blauvelt
Production designer: Zosia Mackenzie
Costume designer: Melissa Shouldice
Editor: Curtiss Clayton
Composers: Jeff McIlwain, David Wingo
Casting directors: Mark Bennett, John Buchan, Jason Knight