Slumber (2017)

Slumber comes from British company Goldcrest Films. It’s set in the US but directed (and co-written) by Jonathan Hopkins of London. We watched it on Amazon Prime.

At the risk of needlessly repeating the name of my blog, my chosen topic is British horror films of the 21st Century.

Slumber is clearly a horror film. And it was definitely made in the 21st Century. But it doesn’t feel British. It’s set in the US and stars an American actress. It has a couple of Brits in supporting roles, but two of them play Americans (at least Sylvester McCoy, who turns up late, gets to keep his native accent). That’s not all: the feature has the gloss and style of a Blumhouse feature.

But it’s a British production by a British filmmaker. That makes it British enough for me ’umble blog. Better yet: I really liked it.

The premise is spooky and intriguing. A boy with sleep paralysis is brought to a specialist, Alice, who’s played by the surprisingly-named (and very able) Maggie Q. Sleep paralysis is a common problem, where you have your eyes open and see your room, but are still asleep and having a nightmare. Also, you’re powerless to move (rather deliciously, the attacks are sometimes called “night terrors”). However, the case has a novel angle: when the boy has these episodes, the rest of the family begins to sleepwalk in unison.

Alice invites them to a sleep clinic, where they all get filmed in the night. Lo and behold, spooky stuff happens.

If that seems like a creepy premise, then it is, and it’s done very well. The sleepwalking is a great device and it’s handled superbly. Everyone goes off into private worlds, acting out their troubled dreams—like a macabre version of a silent disco—and we wonder if they’ll hurt themselves or someone else (this is teased very effectively as they dance around each other and the kitchen appliances). The experience of horror is very personal, but I have to give credit where it’s due: Slumber played me like a fiddle, and my strings were tuned almost to breaking point at times.

Layered on top of this, Alice keeps remembering a past trauma, which dovetails very nicely with the action at the end. All in all, I found it well made and effective.

The only oddity is Sylvester McCoy, whose performance doesn’t always gel. He definitely earned his fee because he does what he does very well. It was just a bit odd for him to be doing it. He’s written as a loopy old buffoon, which jars with the other more grounded performances (and turning up late throws the difference into sharper contrast).

When the script needs him to puff up the horror, he does so with campy relish. His character didn’t spoil the film for me—in fact, after the first act, I was ready for some light relief—but the tone became uneven when he showed up. And yet, and yet… however out of place it was, I love Sylvester McCoy and can’t really grumble.

The only other fly in the ointment is the belief-stretching dénouement. However, this is a fault of almost all supernatural horror. In the first act, they can dangle all kinds of spooky mysteries, and coast for a while on the dream-logic of nightmares—but there’s always a point when they have to come clean, state what’s happening, say how it works, and tell us how the heroes can win. My willing-suspension-of-disbelief usually has a wobble at this point (in fact, the final act is normally when I start to relax—which isn’t ideal for horror).

Slumber was far from the worst example of this. I was engaged by the story, cared about the characters, dreaded a catastrophe, and enjoyed the pay-off. And I covered my eyes a few times. That’s really all I can ask for.

So despite its imperfections, I liked this film a lot and recommend it. Good stuff!

About the author

My name is Ellis. When I’m not reviewing movies, I write short stories about ghosts. If you like supernatural stalkers, you might enjoy Shallow Man, which is free to read online.

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