The opening of State Like Sleep fires the starting pistol on an intriguing mystery. Belgian movie star Stefan (Game of Thrones actor Michiel Huisman) is interviewed about his new role in a big Hollywood franchise, intercut with scenes of a clinical apartment littered with drug paraphernalia and assorted clutter. Eventually, we see Stefan lying on the floor with a gunshot wound in his head. It’s an impressive start to a movie that soon disappears into the fog of its own narrative.
A year or so later, the film picks up Stefan’s wife Katherine (Katherine Waterston), who is called back to Belgium because her mum (Mary Kay Place) has had a stroke. Her mother-in-law Anneke (Julie Khaner) is packing up Stefan’s things and this encourages Katherine to investigate why her husband decided to kill himself, driven by the guilt that their imminent split might have been a contributing factor. Her queries take her to the secretive club Lebellfleur and its owner, played by Luke Evans with cyberpunk blonde hair.
State Like Sleep really wants its audience to believe they are watching a moody, complex thriller. As a result, writer-director Meredith Danluck has created a script that is constantly obfuscating and clouding everything, whether there’s anything behind that smokescreen or not. There’s a curiously inert and lifeless feel to this world, which is too self-consciously bleak and murky to ever make the most of the intriguing disparity between the minimalistic style of Stefan’s home life and the overwrought kaleidoscope of the club at the centre of the mystery.
Waterston is an interesting and effective presence at the centre of the movie, though this continues her run of slightly disappointing roles. Neither the dreadful Alien: Covenant or the mixed bag of the Fantastic Beasts franchise has allowed her to fully spread her wings and she is again held down here. The most intriguing spark of her performance is in a burgeoning relationship with a fellow resident of the hotel in which she is staying (Michael Shannon, less villainous than usual). Unfortunately, the complexities of this bond are barged out of the story and never examined in the detail they deserve.
Danluck’s film appears to be the result of various ideas, but they never cohere into something that makes sense as a whole. Waterston seems to have no problem taking random cocktails of drugs and there’s a weird scene in which she has an encounter with a guy who appears to be sexually gratified by washing her hair. State Like Sleep is full of baffling sideplots that seem to cease to exist outside of their specific scenes and, ultimately, just bulk out and bog down the running time.
This plays havoc with the movie’s pacing, which is absolutely all over the shop. Katherine seems to be only intermittently interested in actually solving the mystery of her husband’s death, despite the fact we’re led to believe her grief has caused her current fugue of sadness. When one character says “there are always loose ends”, it seems like the movie turning to the audience and shrugging its shoulders about the mangled outcome of its own mystery box. It all just fizzles out, as lifeless as the movie’s sludgy cinematography.
State Like Sleep has all of the constituent parts of an interesting thriller, but Danluck just isn’t able to make them work as a cohesive story. The talented cast grapple with a script that has too much woozy uncertainty and not enough depth, more focused on creating the feel of a mystery than in actually crafting one that works. It would be too easy to say that the title reflects how the audience is likely to feel but, if the shoe fits…
Dir: Meredith Danluck
Scr: Meredith Danluck
Cast: Katherine Waterston, Luke Evans, Michael Shannon, Michiel Huisman, Julie Khaner, Mary Kay Place, Bo Martyn, Carlo Rota
Prd: Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez, Eddie Vaisman
DOP: Christopher Blauvelt
Music: Jeff McIlwain, David Wingo
Run time: 104 mins
State Like Sleep will be available on Digital Download from 18th November and can be bought here