Genre : Horror
Rating : R
Director: Phillip Guzman
As complicated as life can be it is surprisingly simple to stay alive. When it comes survival all humans need are air, water, food and sleep. Even then studies have shown that humans can live without water for three to four days while the world record for days without sleep was set by Roy Gardner in 1964. But what if you didn’t have to? That’s what Professor Ella Whatley (played by Yasmine Aker) wants to discover in Sleep No More.
In the 1980s the professor and a small collection of students are doing a study on sleep deprivation. More specifically, to see what happens when you pass 200 hours without sleep. They theorize that once they hit that point the human body adapts and will never need sleep again. But their university funding is cut off when one of their test subjects kills themselves. Already too deep into the study to quit they band together and find a “cure” for sleep. With the help of the experimental drug Cogniphan students Joe (Keli Price), Frannie (Brea Grant), Holly (Christine Dwyer) and Dale (Stephen Ellis) plan to stay up for over a week. Hours turns into days and the students are feeling the effects. As they get closer to hitting what they call the “lucidity point” they begin to see something humans were never meant to see.
Directed by Phillip Guzman (Dead Awake) and written by Jason Murphy (The League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen short), Sleep No More is the latest in a long line of ‘science gone awry’ movies such as The Lazarus Effect and Flatliners. For the most part Sleep No More does what’s expected of those kinds of movies. Whether it is overlooking obvious signs of evil or sticking with the experiment no matter what Sleep No More is a classic example of dumb horror heroes. What makes it stick out from the more recent variations on the trope is its use of an 80’s aesthetic. Similar to movies such as Summer of ’84 and Stranger Things, Sleep No More utilizes older technology, a synth score and a collection of 80’s classics to set the mood. And yet it doesn’t quite feel right. They do an admirable job trying to replicate the Reagan years but the movie feels a bit too glossy to really emulate the era. Unfortunately, the same kind of inconsistency appears in more crucial parts of the film like the special effects.
That isn’t to say all of the effects are bad. In fact, the practical effects look good for an independent title. The suicide that end the initial experiments looks particularly gruesome. The problems arise when it comes to the computer-generated effects. Whenever we are given glimpses of the other world it looks dreadful. Looking like a mix of smoke and The Midnight Man everything looks fake and takes you out the movie. By the time our tired students start to hallucinate the effects look like something out of a Syfy movie. As bad as it looks the cast sell it all flawlessly.
Although Sleep No More has a relatively small cast each of them do a beautiful job showing the wear of sleep deprivation and the experiment. Despite Aker’s Professor Whatley is more of a background character observing the patients she gives the role a professionalism that separates her from the rest of the cast. By her side, at least initially, is Keli Price as Joe. Diving headfirst into the experiment he does a good job anchoring the whole production, exuding an early Andrew Garfield quality in his performance. Providing Sleep No More’s comic relief is Stephen Ellis. Playing Dale, he puts in the most over-the-top performance. It is especially noticeable after as the hours tick by and his performance becomes peak Nic Cage-esque. It really adds some pep to the movie.
Genre favorite Brea Grant (better known for Beyond the Gates and All the Creatures Were Stirring) gives a predictably good performance as Frannie. One of the more developed characters she eagerly goes into the experiment before being forced to tap out early. The only person who doesn’t get a chance to shine is Christine Dwyer as Holly. In fairness that’s hardly her fault. They just don’t develop her character enough and displaying the typical symptoms of insomnia. Despite that hiccup though the cast are definitely the highlight of Sleep No More.
There are many symptoms when it comes to a lack of sleep with the most common being irritability, forgetfulness and headaches. But if I had to ascribe a symptom to Sleep No More would be clumsiness. Despite a good cast and solid direction the movie can’t seem to help but stumble. Whenever the movie gets on a roll we’ll get an appearance from the smoke or a terrible looking ghost that takes you completely out of it. There’s a solid movie in here it just never comes into focus.