Dir: John Shackleton
Written by: Alex Chandon, Ross Jameson, John Shackelton
Starring: Leila Mimmack, Joseph Beattie, David Sibley, Julie Graham, Christopher Adamson
Running Time – 75 mins.
World Premiere: Frightfest 2014
When visiting a reclusive client, call girl Blue (Mimmack), becomes fascinated with the disturbing mysteries contained within his flat in a decaying Regency terraced house. The more she uncovers, the more her life becomes at risk from both human and supernatural forces.
Brighton is certainly not the first location that springs to mind when thinking of a setting for a horror film. With a reputation for being a fun day out on the pier with the family, there was a brilliant opportunity for the gloss to be stripped back and for a film to focus on a terrifying, ghostly hidden world along the seafront.
Sadly, however, ‘The Sleeping Room’ is a film with almost no distinguishing qualities that simply has no real idea of what it wants to be. With the narrative’s central focus on a small call girl operation, it could have been a gritty kitchen-sink thriller in the vein of the marvellous London to Brighton but the choice to add an undercooked supernatural element both confuses and confounds.
It is only natural that when dealing with the seedy sex trade, there would be some unsavoury characters, however, the scowling pimp and boozy matron are but two of the painfully stereotypical characters that infest the film’s limited cast. The interaction between these terribly cookie cutter rough types is paper thin and there is no sense of development of any of their characters. Any notion of sympathy or intimidation is totally non-existent as no effort has been made to give them any discernible life or heft.
With a completely uneven pace that jumps from a murmur to full on screaming at the flick of a switch, very often it is a mystery as to what is even going on onscreen and why should audiences care. There is a highly questionable use of a false ending, shown at the start of the film that serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Perhaps the filmmakers were labouring under the delusion that it would trick audiences into thinking that they could tell what was going to happen. This fails spectacularly in this endeavour and it is not impressive, just resulting in much head-scratching confusion.
The film’s plot is a violently tangled series of knots of various narrative strands and half touched-upon dull tangents. Several different stories are haphazardly crammed together in an attempt to flesh out the film’s ghostly link to the past but the whole operation is a failure. When it comes to trying to juggle elements of both a supernatural chiller and gritty thriller, the film ends up dropping them all, resulting in something that is ultimately dull, lifeless and un-engaging.
The film’s strongest acquisition is in the leading role of Blue, played with incredible confidence and shining understated talent by Leila Mimmack. The key to the effectiveness of her performance that she completely breaks down the stereotypical walls that surround the character of a call girl. She is not vapid, slutty or even remotely fragile, on several occasions when facing both abuse and fear of death, she more than stands up for herself.
Although her performance is, arguably, the only truly effective thing in the film, it is still very difficult to have any sympathy or investment in her character. In spite of the fact that she is the only one who has any semblance of development, the audience still do not get enough time to get to get a real feel for her or have any significant sense of threat when she is in danger.
When the film occasionally portends to be a horror film, it at least appears to be about a malevolent spirit of the cultist who previously lived in the house. That’s what it seems to be but the film is at times, indecipherable as to what its actual focus is on. Whilst there is some semblance of a disturbing past that could have spring boarded the possession angle, it is just not explained properly. As a result of having no clear idea how or why Bill (Beattie) gets possessed, his violent outbursts and murderous grin just come across as lazy and daft.
The use of a Poundland-eqsue scarecrow mask as the icon of fear is embarrassing and feels incredibly tired and beyond hackneyed. Even as a last resort for creating any sort of terror, what very few attempts at jump scares there are, almost every single one fails to raise even a twitch. The film’s final act crams in the slasher element as a great deal of plasma is spilt, but it is far too late in the day to be effective. Even for its brief running time, it completely outstays its welcome.
There is certainly one element of the film that does show a sign of creativity. This can be found in the incredibly creepy footage contained within the classic seaside stable of a mutoscope. The film itself is of a perverse, satanic ritual persuasion and the jittery movements caused by the grainy picture create a genuine sense of unease that is, sadly, completely absent from the rest of the film.
Whilst Mimmack’s performance is superb, sadly, it is drowned in a sea of mediocrity and almost laughable confusion. The Sleeping Room completely lacks anything remotely gripping or anything that makes it stand out in the slightest.
A befuddling mess.