“In My Sleep” should stay in bed

Markus seems to keep waking up “In My Sleep,” with nasty evidence of murder in or on his hands.  His boss’ & best friend’s, Justin (Tim Draxl), wife, Ann (Kelly Overton), disappears and is presumed murdered.  The more often Markus awakes with suspicious, even bloody evidence in-hand, the more he starts to pursue cures to his disorder, and answers for the blood.

Markus (Philip Winchester), is a day spa masseuse and a parasomniac.  That word pops up often in conversatory, doesn’t it?  According to WebMD “parasomnias are disruptive sleep-related disorders that can occur during arousals from REM sleep or partial arousals from Non-REM sleep.”  They “include nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, confusional arousals, and many others.”  While the movie makes the noctural murders the prevailing disorder, it isn’t.

The key question: did he kill Ann?  The plot twists, which they add atop story wrinkle atop peripheral character tell us that the filmmakers, Allen Wolf and David Austin, almost forget or ignore this question.  None of these serves the story.  Instead they add up to distracting and frustrating us.  There are worse movies out there, but it might be hard to name one that’s a mess on as many levels as this.

Caged "In My Sleep"

This film played at the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul in mid-August.

“In My Sleep” is an ambitious, overwrought and overwritten attempt at a thriller.  How many ways can you describe a bad, or badly made movie?  It’s like a cook who’s found himself in a Master Chef-like competition while having no clue of how to not come off as a fool, hold his own or even win.

An example: Marcus at a nightclub, with Justin and Ann.  The night is young, so he elects to hop to the next nightspot and find a girl.  But he gets a female crank caller, whom he assumes, by reflex, must be one of his one-time conquests.  But she asks him, in a forthright, non-sentimental way, why he sleeps with a new woman every night; why he can’t commit to one?  Now, it’s weird and creepy.  And this pondering question could make for a decent story about some of life’s pillars, love, sex and happiness.

A second example: in a surprise birthday party sequence, Markus opens a package, a particularly combat-worthy knife, is taken aback and then reads the card – sent and written by himself.  Bizarre.  Pieces of story, like this, are introduced capriciously and then dropped.

Every 15-mins seems to add a twist wrinkle, character or symbolism.  There are at least three scenes, subplots or sequences, which if omitted, would clarify the plot: there is the police’s investigation of Ann’s death; the one about Markus’ parents’ dysfunctions; and one where his love interest turns out to be a relative out to avenge his friend’s death.  Each is instead barely developed, like a child who claims a passionate hobby for about a week, before dropping it.  None of these serves the story.

“In My Sleep” trying too hard to be a gripping Hitchcockian thriller.  It’s desperate, adding new twists and absurd, potential subplots and character motivations.  It’s trying to cover for being inept.

Gift to self: a knife for killing

“Sleep” is incoherent and barely organized: it reminds me of HBO’s 2000 “Longitude,” story about the creation of Standard Time.  It’s splendid with fascinating characters.  The clock’s namesake, John Harrison, was so much of egoist that he didn’t strip away design errors; instead he added pieces to the clock, on top of the errors, to make it work.  According to the HBO film, the Harrison Machines, while working, also boast a mess of pointless, add-on parts.  The design was crude, but worked, and helped to save lives – but that’s a whole other story.  Too bad the “In My Sleep” flat out doesn’t work.

The filmmakers steal from Alfred Hitchcock, to whom a New York Times critic has compared “In My Sleep”, and John Dahl and other filmmakers.  Each of them deftly spins yarns of suspense, albeit in different and distinctive ways.

Compare this film to Mr. Dahl’s 1989′s “Kill Me Again,” 1994′s “The Last Seduction” or 1996′s “Unforgettable,” or to any one of Mr. Hitchcock’s oeuvres.  Do you need a list?  At least three must be on the tip of your tongue.  When Messrs Dahl or Hitchcock each uses suspense, it pays off, excites us and serves the story.  When Mr. Wolf does it we get the opposite.  At least half the time when Wolf tries the climactic reveal, which the music plays up, it collapses.  That broaches the other fundamental crisis: mocking or copying Bernard Hermann.

The musical score, which copies those of Bernard Hermann, who did many of Hitchcock’s, tweaks the strings with such exuberance as to mock Mr. Hermann’s remarkable, indelible music.  It’s disappointing.  It’s makes you shake your head, asking “why screw up that iconic musical touch?”

“In My Sleep” offers a promising plot in the first act.  But maybe it’s only enough to give it enough rope to hang itself.  Not everything in this is bad or badly done, but most of it is, and that drowns out what could have been a competent genre yarn.

Unfortunately the film team, Allen Wolf, and producer, David Austin, try too hard without having the competence or skills to accomplish their vision.  But this story shows meager evidence that they held a clear, cogent one.

But at some point you have to blurt “enough.”  The Razzies might find time to celebrate this one. It’s too bad, even morose; you want to give an artist some credit for daring or reaching.  Competence is the first question.

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