An intriguing visual cocktail of Kafka, Lynch and the Brothers Grimm, Sleep is the first full-length feature from director Michael Venus. Flight attendant Marlene (Sandra Hüller, Requiem) is living in the shadow of vivid recurring nightmares of a place she’s never been. Then she discovers it’s a real place: Stainbach, a small village with a dark history whose torments seem to mirror hers.
When Marlene checks into the strangely empty hotel she’s literally dreamed of, the nightmares are there to meet her in waking life, causing a psychotic breakdown that leaves her unable to communicate. Her daughter Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) is called to the hospital, and having found her mother’s drawings of the place she saw in her dreams, checks into the same hotel. She starts to see the same waking nightmares her mother saw – but will being there help her solve the mystery of what haunts her mother and the people of Steinbach, or merely mean she too is consumed by it?
Elegant and accurate in its visual commentary on the repeating patterns of abuse and trauma, supported by credibly creepy performances from the locals whose world – however unhappy that world is – the women have invaded. There’s still not quite enough reality to the characters themselves or the wider lives beyond the details of the trauma that overshadows them for to invest as deeply and richly as we might like; still, a satisfyingly cryptic visual exploration of emotional trauma through folk imagery, with loud Lynchian echoes of nature’s darker forces pushing at the edges of civilisation and life as a dream within a dream.
Sleep is available to stream on Arrow.