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SLEEP [Chicago Critics Festival 2024]

Written By:

Martin Unsworth

Sleepwalking has always been a frightful real-world phenomenon. This delightful South Korean film takes those fears to the next level when a wife must contend with her husband’s fearful late-night escapades. This marriage exploration has the couple test their limits of how much they can take of one another when these late-night walks heighten to dangerous levels for themselves and their newborn. As the story goes on, both husband and wife have to deal with each other’s peculiarities and decide where to draw the line between self-preservation and independent violation of their marriage vows to take on problems together.

Directed by Jason Yu, Bong Joon Ho’s second unit director on Okja, Sleep feels as much a character drama as a horror movie. The family at its centre can stand in for your own; the metaphor works well for any significant other’s behaviour, especially one that involves mental illness. Through jump scares from unexpected places and fearful moments of high suspense building towards revelatory horror, the film taps into a primal fear inherent to tethering yourself to someone for the rest of your life. Love itself is the real conflict. When your loved one becomes inherently untrustable outside of their control, only the strongest can stick around through it all.

What elevates Sleep above more complex horror movies this year is its focus on the audience’s thoughts. The story anticipates and explains away our solutions, while the cinematography keeps a distance from the characters, allowing us to feel like we’re commenting on the crazy lives of our neighbours. By keeping the horrors imaginative yet believable, we are made to participate in this psychological horror’s twists in sickness and in health, for better or worse.


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