Don't Sleep


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Don't Sleep
"This is Hollywood crazy by numbers."

The best moments of Don't Sleep come at the very beginning. Dash Williams is magnetic as Zach, a boy who is having nightmares but whose problems may lie much deeper. It's a performance briefly reprised later in the film, a snapshot of something unusually intense. Unfortunately, it make the already bland Dominic Sherwood, who plays the adult Zach, all the more of a disappointment.

As an adult, Zach is in the process of moving in with girlfriend Shawn (Charlbi Dean Kriek) for the first time. Kriek, at least, conveys enthusiasm, and shows us the excitement of young love, easing this into the gradual changes each must undergo as they get to know one another in a different way. But something is wrong. It begins when an elderly neighbour is assaulted. People start behaving strangely. Another neighbour grows increasingly fearful, muttering portentous things as her husband tries to calm her. Zach suggests that Shawn should be careful when she's out and about. It's that old, familiar situation: a woman who's used to accepting an element of risk, a man who's frustrated because he believes she doesn't recognise it. A seed of tension between them.

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There's potential in this portrait of awkwardness entering a naive relationship, or at least there would be if Sherwood had anything meaningful to contribute, but it's soon set aside in favour of more histrionic action. Zach becomes concerned as his nightmares return. He goes to consult psychiatrist Dr Sommers (an all too brief performance by Cary Elwes, the sometime Dread Pirate Roberts now easing into taupe suits and late middle age), and is disturbed to discover that Sommers treated him as a child for something of which he now has no memory. Cue a process of soul-searching as he tries to work out if he could be responsible for some of the bad things happening around him. Is he going mad? Is something supernatural affecting him? Either way, can he keep Shawn safe?

This is Hollywood crazy by numbers. We can tell Zach's losing it because he suddenly wants rough sex, or what passes for rough sex here, which is less daring than the average More magazine Position of the Week. He's sulky and inconsiderate to Shawn, and she responds like exactly the kind of wet blanket she's been telling us she's not. The neighbourhood hysteria increases and Sherwood twists his jaw and knits his eyebrows, trying furiously to emote.

By this point, you may be beginning to feel that the title of the film was less a warning and more of a desperate plea. But keep your eyes open, if you can, because the final scene introduces a whole new level of silliness that has to be seen to be believed. Though not in itself an unusual narrative device, it's pasted into this film like a sticking plaster over a gushing wound, and the effect is less horrific or romantic than unintentionally hilarious.

Don't Sleep is a film that works so hard to make an impression that it risks being remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2017
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After moving into a cottage together, two young lovers confront the horrors of a forgotten childhood.

Director: Rick Bieber

Writer: Rick Bieber

Starring: Cary Elwes, Dominic Sherwood, Drea de Matteo

Year: 2017

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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