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Sleep Review: Marriage Unravels in a Gleeful Korean Somnambulist Psycho-Chiller
Night fever … Lee Sun-kyun and Jung Yu-mi in Sleep

The sleep of reason is often said to produce monsters, but sleep deprivation seems to conjure even more. This paradox drives the elegant, intimate, and brash Korean chiller, “Sleep,” directed by feature first-timer Jason Yu. Yu, known for his previous work as an assistant to Oscar-winning director Bong Joon-ho, crafts a horror movie that delves into sleepwalking and the unsettling sleep of a troubled marriage. It tingles with hints of “The Exorcist,” “Sleeping With the Enemy,” and even Steven Soderbergh’s underappreciated thriller “Side Effects.”

Korean leading man Lee Sun-kyun tragically appears posthumously in this film, having taken his own life last December following a tabloid scandal. His portrayal of Hyun-su is poignant, marking one of his best performances. Hyun-su is an ascending actor who’s won an indie award and secured a minor role in a major studio flick. He is happily married to Soo-jin, played by Jung Yu-mi. Soo-jin, a heavily pregnant estate agent, has postponed her maternity leave until the last possible moment, likely due to their reliance on her steady income. They share a cozy flat, and Hyun-su entertains Soo-jin with his comedic impressions of their grumpy neighbor, who often complains about their noise. They also have a sweet pomeranian named Pepper, though horror aficionados might worry about the pet’s safety in such a film.

As the story unfolds, questions loom. Is Hyun-su secretly anxious about impending fatherhood or his precarious career? Could he be sensing the potential for postpartum depression in Soo-jin? These questions may explain his bizarre sleepwalking episodes. Soo-jin is initially exasperated by his snoring but grows more concerned when he stops snoring altogether and sits up, mumbling, “Someone’s inside.” His sleepwalking becomes alarming, and eventually terrifying, once the baby is born. Soo-jin finds herself unable to trust either of them to sleep together. Tentatively, she asks her unconscious husband if he would harm their child, to which he sleepily responds, “I don’t think so.”

Indeed, someone—or something—is inside. An unconscious presence, an id, or perhaps an alternate self that emerges during sleep. Marriage complicates the dynamic further, as Hyun-su offers to stay in a hotel to sort his issues, but Soo-jin insists they face their problems together. They form a unified front, lying in bed together, only half-aware of each other’s waking or sleeping states but always sensing something. This shared existence becomes their nightmare: Hyun-su navigating a surreal somnambulist world and Soo-jin struggling with insomnia.

The narrative takes an intriguing turn with the introduction of their neighbor Min-jeong, played by Kim Gook-hee. She offers an amusing yet unsettling presence with her brattish son and a dog identical to Pepper, which Soo-jin perceives as an intolerable insult for inexplicable reasons. The movie expertly balances humor and tension, giving the audience occasional respite while maintaining an undercurrent of dread. The ambiguous relationship with this seemingly friendly neighbor is handled deftly, keeping viewers on edge.

However, when the film introduces overt supernatural elements and hints at a psychiatric breakdown, it somewhat loses its subtlety. Despite this shift, the movie consistently maintains a hyper-vigilant undertone of fear, ensuring the audience remains engaged and anxious throughout the narrative.

“Sleep” comes to UK cinemas on July 12, promising a chilling experience that intertwines the psychological with the supernatural, leaving audiences questioning the boundaries of sleep and reality.

Source: The Guardian