Review: Sleepwalker / Cert: 15 / Director: Saxon Logan / Screenplay: Saxon Logan / Starring: Bill Douglas, Joanna David, Heather Page / Release Date: Out Now
Cult director Saxon Logan’s short-form drama, a story of early 1980s British middle class frustration and repression laced with deliciously bloody fantasy violence, arrives on a slightly grainy BFI DVD/Blu-ray edition struck from the only known surviving print. Its brief running time – just under fifty minutes – meant that contemporary distributors (it was filmed on a shoestring budget in 1984) had no real idea what to do with it and as a result it was left on the shelf unloved and largely unseen.
Sleepwalker is a curious beast, difficult to categorize and even harder to rationalize. It starts off like some typical low-key 1980s British TV drama, a perverse version of Abigail’s Party relocated to the country, as Angela (David) and her spiky, ill-tempered businessman husband Richard (Grace) visit siblings Marion (Page) and Alex (Douglas) in their dilapidated country home. Storm damage has ruined Marion’s plans for supper and the foursome set out for a meal at a local inn where tempers become frayed and personalities and lifestyles clash. Back home Alex, who sleepwalks and has terrible nightmares about death and murder, becomes increasingly agitated and the attraction between Marion and the cocky Richard threatens to spiral out of control. During the night a maelstrom of violence is unleashed… but is the violence real or is it all some terrible nightmare from which there’s no waking up?
The film is very much a product of its time, its characters a reflection of Margaret Thatcher-era Britain, none more so than self-made man Richard (his surname is ‘Paradise’, indicative of the idyllic lifestyle he thinks that money can provide), sneering at the wild-eyed Alex and his rundown country home ‘Albion’, the oldest recorded name for Britain – suggesting the static, decaying society Alex and Marion represent. It’s a drama of manners, the high point being the extended restaurant sequence where Richard merrily spews his opinionated, capitalist bile to the mounting distress and fury of Alex as Marion and Angela try to maintain the civilised veneer of the sophisticated dinner party crowd. Back at the house the tension starts to build as Alex finally loses patience with Richard, and Marion and Richard flirt outrageously in front of Angela who just decides to go to bed and ignore it all. It’s a tense, tinderbox situation and as night falls Alex starts to dream again and before too long he’s sleepwalking…
Short, edgy and to the point, Sleepwalker is a sharp, barbed little movie, atmospherically shot by Logan from his own passionate script. It’s hardly a genre or horror movie in and of itself but the explosion of violence which brings events to a head is shocking, bloody and satisfyingly ambiguous. Frustratingly, Sleepwalker was Logan’s final director credit and whilst the film is, at best, a quirky oddity from a quirky talent, it’s a title the BFI are to be congratulated for exhuming and is worth investigating as an example of a genre-defying British movie which pulls no punches and makes no concessions to its audience's sensibilities or expectations.
Extras: Three more short films – Logan’s 1977 ten-minute Stepping Out, Rodney Giesler’s 45-minute fantasy The Insomniac and Working Surface in which Bill Douglas plays a struggling writer / 75-minute Logan interview / Collector’s booklet