Review: SLEEP NO MORE Is A Throwback That Puts A Spin On The "Sleep Horror" Trend
Ever since The Nightmare, the psuedo-doc about sleep paralysis that had some truly horrifying moments, sleep paralysis has become a bit of a trend in the horror genre. I mean, why not? It’s a bizarre and terrifying phenomena that we don’t understand that must have some sort of scientific basis but is also steeped in a strange amount of lore. In the last few years, we’ve definitely been inundated with a lot of horror flicks that focus directly on this anomaly so when RLJE put out Sleep No More, this is exactly what I was anticipating.
Instead, it’s a synthwave supernatural horror flick that introduces a fascinating monster.
It’s 1986 and a crew of graduate students have been running sleep deprivation experiments to attempt to rid the world of naps. Why, you may ask. I love naps but the hypothesis is that if people could stop napping, and even cut down on how much sleep they need to reset the body and the brain, imagine how much more productive we would become as a species. When their first human experiment goes horribly awry, the project is shut down but the aspiring scientists decide to continue the process in secret. Unfortunately, in the process, they discover an otherworldly entity that relies on our dream state as food and they’re not happy with the results.
The plot is kind of goofy and silly but something about the late eighties setting of the movie makes it all the more forgiving. It fits right in with some of the harebrained schemes that speckled the eighties era, and with how much effort Marc Vanocur and Holly Bronko put into making the movie sound and look like something straight out of the mid-80’s, you’re able to slip into the mindset with ease. (It should be noted that costume designer Eryn Brooke nails the aesthetic without ever tipping into gratuitous era hamfisting.)
The cast is all suitable, with Keli Price just handsome and charming enough to pull off a likable lead, but the movie feels much sturdier once Brea Grant is nudged into a larger role in the second half of the film. Stephen Ellis as the smart mouthed Joe also feels ripped straight from the decade of replication so he’s a comfortable addition as well. Price and Grant have the chops to carry the sort of strung together plot through the end of the film, with Price and Ellis in particular playing the part of the sleep deprived breakdown convincingly.
Once the creatures are introduced, they ideas and mythos surrounding them are fun and interesting but the execution leaves you wanting more. With a movie that nailed the presentation so directly with retrofitting, it’s a shame that they decided to go with CGI over practical for the monsters. While the idea behind their existence and now continued “haunting” of the students is original and just whacky enough to be fun, their representation on screen is lackluster, dancing between billowy smoke fiends and sometimes just wispy blackened tendrils. Another missed opportunity is the idea that these “vultures,” as they’re called, can use your own worst fears against you and while this idea is definitely touched on, it’s never taken to the limit of it’s potential.
Sleep No More has more going for it than you may think. Grant proves again why she’s a young horror icon and the score, soundtrack, and production design are all leagues beyond what a small scale release like this should have to offer. While some of the actual horror stuff will make you cringe a little, a few scenes still illicit the response that director Phillip Guzman was sure to be looking for. Much of the film feels like Flatliners-lite and there’s nothing wrong with that. While Sleep No More doesn’t quite live up to the creative possibilities it could have, it has enough flair for nostalgia and capable performances to make it a fun throwback for a October afternoon.