Review: The Sleepwalker (2014)

The Sleepwalker (2014)

Directed by: Mona Fastvold | 91 minutes | drama | Actors: Gitte Witt, Christopher Abbott, Stephanie Ellis, Brady Corbet

Actually, it is remarkable that Brady Corbet is not a bigger star in the Hollywood firmament. Already at the age of eleven he appeared for the first time in a television series (“The King of Queens”). A few years later, he starred alongside Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter in the Catherine Hardwicke-directed semi-biographical ‘Thirteen’ (2013). Gregg Araki cast him in 2005 in ‘Mysterious Skin’, a drama that was labeled ‘controversial’ because of its theme of pedophilia. The still only seventeen-year-old Corbet, like the other young star in that film (but seven years older than Corbet) – Joseph Gordon-Levitt – received rave reviews. His resume also includes roles in films such as ‘Funny Games’ (2008, a role that earned him a Young Hollywood Award as ‘One to watch), ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ (2011), ‘Melancholia’ (2011) and ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ (2014) and TV series such as “24” and “Law and Order”. His choice for roles in modest, mostly independent films may have contributed to the fact that this talented young actor is not yet a ‘household name’.

Together with his girlfriend, Norwegian filmmaker Mona Fastvold, he wrote ‘The Sleepwalker’ (2014), a story that is not easy to pigeonhole. The film is presented as a thriller, but is above all a relational drama in which the young protagonists, due to their unwillingness or inability to communicate with each other, allow mutual tensions to run high. Psychological drama that is weighed down by its own pretensions. Kaia (Norwegian actress Gitte Witt, who could have been a sister of our own Sylvia Hoeks) is a woman with a past. The scars that disfigure her body still remind her daily of the drama that shaped her. Recently her father, who was an architect, passed away and together with her friend Andrew (Christopher Abbott, who knew Corbet from ‘Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene’) she tries to renovate his secluded country house. Things are going pretty well until Kaia gets a call in the middle of the night from her half-sister Christine (Stephanie Ellis), from whom she’s been estranged for years, asking to pick her up at the nearest station.

Christine is a rather unstable type, with a long history of mental problems. Apparently she missed her sister, even though it turns out she now has a boyfriend, from whom she is even pregnant. That same night, Kaia contacts this Ira (Brady Corbet), so that he will be at the door the next morning to pick up Christine. The slippery Ira is of wealthy descent and a rather manipulative type. While Christine and Ira were supposed to return home as soon as possible, Kaia is persuaded to let them stay longer, much to Andrew’s chagrin, who wants to continue with the renovation. The longer the four are together, the more corpses come out (not literally!). Andrew appears to have been in jail for a while for physically assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Christine is a mental wreck who sleepwalks at night and regularly runs away from home. She and Kaia also share a secret related to Kaia’s wounds. They also have a very different view of their father than Christine. And Ira openly flirts with Kaia, much to Andrew’s anger.

This Norwegian-American co-production has an intriguing premise. The big question – what ever happened between sisters Kaia and Christine, who were once very close, which caused them to grow apart? – hangs over the four characters like a sword of Damocles; we have to wait for the climax, especially because the music steers strongly in the direction of a denouement. The big problem, however, is: that long-awaited apotheosis has not materialized. Full of symbolism, the film ends abruptly, leaving us with too many questions. Despite the commitment and acting performances of the talented cast; it’s very hard to sympathize with the characters, and frankly, we don’t care what happens to them. Mona Fastvold shows herself to be a director with an eye for style and atmosphere, but as a screenwriter she still has a lot of work to do. ‘The Sleepwalker’ boasts a talented young cast and knows how to intrigue with its premise, but what lingers afterwards is a pretentious collection of loose ends.

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