Sleepless Beauty (2020) Lacks Both REM Sleep and Refinement
Title: Sleepless Beauty
First Wide Release: June 29, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Pavel Khvaleev
Writer: Aleksandra Khvaleeva
Runtime: 84 Minutes
Starring: Polina Davydova, Evgeniy Gagarin, Andrey Tereshenko
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A schoolteacher is secretly monitored before being kidnapped by a strange organization. After waking up in a cold and spartan room, Mila (Polina Davydova), is subjected to extreme physical, psychological, and emotional torture by a mysterious organization known as Recreation. Unable to sleep and at the mercy of her captors, Mila becomes desensitized to the violence. Meanwhile, her parents desperately work with a private detective to find answers to her disappearance. Will this newfound power give her the strength to escape, or will she succumb to the insidious plans of Recreation?
In Sleepless Beauty, dull and repetitive torture leave the only impact in this nap-inducing exercise in experimental torture.
I can’t help but admire the creators of Sleepless Beauty for trying to ram two competing waves of horror together to create this film: 2000s extreme/torture films and 2010s experimental, arthouse horror. It’s hard not to see the comparisons. The setup is eerily similar to some of the more vicious European genre outputs at the time and it’s utilization of stop-motion virtual reality makes for a rather unique choice for an otherwise below average film. The idea has potential, but unfortunately it lacks the vision needed to realize it.
The idea behind breaking a person down to their most base or primal form is one long explored in the genre. Sleepless Beauty opts to refashion this for a modern take on assassinations that feels both convoluted and unnecessary. Recreation, as an organization, doesn’t make sense. If they are able to test their theories out on so many unsuspecting women, why not put their capital towards accomplishing their main goal?
One can argue that Sleepless Beauty serves as a cautionary tale as to what isolation and long-term exposure to technology and depravity can have on one’s mental stability. Mila is a relatively even-tempered and rational person pre-kidnapping, and her breakdown is meant to unnerve and horrify you, as it should. This breakdown happens over the course of a very short time period, meaning to signify it isn’t hard to deprogram someone with the right motivation and dire circumstances. Or, it could just be another good excuse to make audiences squirm.
The film boasts fine enough production values to hold its own. The virtual reality headset offers some creepy and unsettling imagery and is a break from the mind-numbing torture Mila endures. Effects are largely fine and the film finds a way to integrate a virtual chatroom that feels real and just as much a part of the main story. It’s nothing unique, but Sleepless Beauty is competent at the bare minimum.
Sleepless Beauty suffers mainly from its nonsensical script that fails to excite or engage. It waffles between Mila’s story and a rather uninspiring subplot where her parents hire a private investigator to track her down to save her. It kills the tension and pacing while offering nothing substantial to keep the action going. We are also treated to more foreshadowing about the organization’s true intentions that hand holds the audience into coming to the conclusion its creator’s desire.
The last criticism I can make is one that isn’t wholly the filmmaker’s fault. The English dub is absolutely awful and kills any chance this film has of being effective. If studios insist on creating dubbed material (which I believe they should accommodate for disabled folks and others who need them), I am begging them to also trust audiences to make the right choice for themselves and release a print with the original audio with English subtitles.
It isn’t the worst that extreme horror has to offer, both in mindless plot and splatter gore, but Sleepless Beauty manages to wilt even more noticeably than its peers. While its kaleidoscope of horrors might captivate others, most will likely find the torture sequences more exhausting than horrifying. Mila is forced to endure attack after attack before her story culminates in one of the laziest and most predictable reveals yet. It does get points for creativity here and there but fails to yield a clever, or even interesting, thesis that merits such humdrum depravity. Gorehounds may rejoice and fans of grungier horror may delight, but most others will likely yawn and shrug their shoulders.
Overall Score? 4/10