‘Sleepwalker’: Film Review | Santa Barbara 2017

Courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Cryptic scripting diminishes accessibility.

Elliott Lester’s fourth feature stars Ahna O’Reilly as a troubled somnambulist enduring a disturbing series of events.

A young woman suffering from a mysterious sleep disorder struggles to maintain her weakening grip on reality in Sleepwalker, an underwhelming approximation of a David Lynch-style psychological drama. After 2015’s well-received Nightingale, director Elliott Lester’s switch to more genre-oriented material comes off as overly obscure, suggesting limited art house appeal.  

Following the death of her husband, Sarah Wells (Ahna O’Reilly) decides to return to her university PhD studies, but encounters frequent episodes of sleepwalking that eventually result in the police retrieving her after she wanders out on the nighttime city streets. Sarah decides to check herself into the university sleep clinic, concerned that she may do herself some harm if her nightmares and erratic behavior continue. Under the care of Dr. Scott White (Richard Armitage), Sarah experiences her first restful nights in many weeks, and although she’s still troubled by bad dreams, at least she’s not walking in her sleep.

After returning home, she reassures her friend Nicole (Emma Fitzpatrick) that she’s doing much better, but the sleepwalking soon resurfaces, along with unexpected confusion about her own identity, the real intentions of Dr. White and suspicions about almost everyone else that she encounters. Recurring nightmares about a mysterious woman who repeatedly accuses Sarah of trying to attack her drive Sarah to question her own competence at the same time that Dr. White seems to be taking an unusual level of interest in her case. As she begins to lose the ability to distinguish real events from her own imagination, Sarah realizes that a radical realignment of her mental state may be required to regain a sense of balance and self-control.

In conceiving the self-consciously elaborate script, writer Jack Olsen (When the Bough Breaks) appears more intent on keeping the audience guessing than constructing a cogent narrative. Obscure characters, indeterminate locations and disorienting flashbacks scramble the timeline before it eventually reaches an uninspired conclusion.

Lester’s approach doesn’t do much to clarify the film’s convoluted events, which often transpire in dimly lit rooms or on darkened streets. While the intention of all this obfuscation seems to be an attempt to illuminate the uncertain mental state of a seriously troubled woman, the willfully vague plot gradually unravels as inexorably as the protagonist’s perception of reality.

As Sarah, O’Reilly gets stuck with conveying the turmoil of an implausibly disoriented character, and although she makes a good go of appearing helpless, the role is too reactive to really be sympathetic. Playing her white knight, Armitage demonstrates remarkably little rapport with his mysterious patient, despite a poorly developed romantic subplot. Haley Joel Osment, wearing a scruffy beard, is practically unrecognizable as a creepy stalker, whose function as a real or imagined threat isn’t quite clear.

Production company: Night and Day Pictures
Distributor: MarVista Entertainment
Cast: Ahna O’Reilly, Richard Armitage, Izabella Scorupco, Kevin Zegers, Haley Joel Osment, Emma Fitzpatrick, Aberta Mayne, Mark Ivanir, Rachel Melvin
Director: Elliott Lester
Screenwriter: Jack Olsen
Producers: Michael Roiff, Jennifer Glynn, Sharon Bordas, Hannah Pillemer
Executive producers: Fernando Szew, Noah C. Haeussner, Michael Raimondi, Jack Olsen
Director of photography: Peter Vermeer
Editor: Nicholas Wayman-Harris 
Music: Mark D. Todd
Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival

88 minutes


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