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[Fantasia] 'Sleep' review: Atmospheric horror will keep audiences up

Fantasia 2020

[Fantasia] ‘Sleep’ review: Atmospheric horror will keep audiences up

Great atmosphere and mood

Few things are as frustrating as being unable to get a good night’s sleep. The lackadaisical feeling seems to last all day as more and more tasks seem to pile up. Screening at Fantasia Film Fest, Sleep (Schlaf) is a German horror movie about a woman named Marlene who is plagued by nightmares. Unfortunately, her fear is not one that can be defeated with a group of dream warriors.

Sleep does an excellent job of building its atmosphere. There are two very familiar moods. One is an almost fairy tale vibe given off by the movie. The story deals in apparitions, local legends, and magical creatures. The characters and locations could have easily come from a storybook. Calling it a modern day fairy tale would not be quite right, but the influence is clear.

There is an Italian horror movie aesthetic to it that becomes noticeable immediately, also. The bright lurid reds are the first example. As the movie progresses, director Michael Venus focuses on setting. Bright colors are set against stark backdrops. The grey village may seem visually unspectacular, but it’s the perfect backdrop for Sleep.

The story is solemn and patient. In these moments, the characters and story are most effective. It is in the more laid back scenes that the most tension is built. The film does a great job of putting the audience on edge. Sometimes, those who are watching will feel as if they are suffering from a lack of  rest. As Marlene’s daughter Mona investigates her family’s past more, she learns shocking secrets. A few of these discoveries are some of the best in the movie.


When Sleep does rely on the more tested horror tropes it tends to lose its way. The “what is and is not real” aspect may become tired for some, for example. That being said, there are some incredibly effective jump scares. The film does a good job of balancing out it’s story during the first two acts. Toward the end things start to wear thin. It is at this point it moves away from being a tight psychological horror movie. It never gets bad, but it definitely loses some steam.

Sleep starts off as a story driven horror story. It does a great job of telling a non traditional tale, even though it has a very folklore-like feel to it. Towards the end, it becomes a little convulsed. It moves away from the elements that made it strong, It leans towards being more standard horror. It does a good job at being straightforward horror, but there is also the feeling that the movie could have been something more.


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