Actors: Christopher Abbott, Gitte Witt
Director: Mona Fastvold
Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
Number of discs: 1
Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
DVD Release Date: May 12, 2015
Run Time: 91 minutes
A lot of independent films are born out of a singularly unique good idea, but fail in the management of the execution. This can happen with poor performances from amateur actors, technical inadequacy in the form of bad cinematography and poor sound, or a screenplay with dialogue that is heavily in need of a rewrite. Surprisingly, all of these elements are effectively carried out within the narrative of The Sleepwalker; all of the leads give consistently solid performances, the film looks and sounds great, and little of the dialogue made me cringe. The problem doesn’t come from the execution, but instead what feels like an incomplete concept for the film itself. Whatever point or end result that filmmaker Mona Fastvold may have been hoping the audience would be left with somehow gets lost. The Sleepwalker is excellently executed but ends up feeling like an empty shell. With all of the effort to crack this nut, it will likely leave audiences feeling frustratingly unnourished.
Following the relationship between two sisters with different recollections of their childhood traumas, The Sleepwalker is primarily character driven in content. We begin with Kaia (Gitte Witt) and her live-in boyfriend, Andrew (Christopher Abbott), who is using his experience in construction to help renovate her childhood estate. Despite the quiet rural location, even from the beginning there is something a little unsettling about this set-up. While Andrew and Kaia are clearly comfortable with each other’s company, there is joy and excitement missing from their interactions with each other. Even a sexual encounter following a private celebration for Kaia’s birthday is suddenly and inexplicably unsuccessful.
If this couple is having trouble connecting, these problems are only magnified by the arrival of Kaia’s emotionally disturbed sister, Christine (Stephanie Ellis). She appears in the middle of the night with no explanation, quickly followed by her concerned fiancé, Ira (Brady Corbet). There is instantly a clash of personalities between Ira and Andrew, due to a difference in upbringing and social standing, but the real problems come from Christine’s erratic behavior. Her emotional instability combined with the propensity to sleepwalk throughout the family grounds seem to suggest that Christine is struggling with emotional residue leftover from a difficult childhood. What this means exactly remains a mystery that can only be solved by reading between the lines, even by the time credits begin to scroll.
The Sleepwalker revels in mood and atmosphere with the simplistic family dysfunction narrative, spending much of the running-time building up a mystery which goes mostly unsolved. The tone of the film begs for audience attention, reveling in the questions that Fastvold doesn’t find necessary to answer. The remarkably engaging performances almost do a disservice to the narrative, because I was left longing for far more resolution than the first-time director was willing to give. The actors involved provide much more depth than the content of the screenplay co-written by Fastvold (along with co-star Brady Corbet) is willing to provide, resulting in an anticlimactic and unsatisfying finale. The Sleepwalker has the ambiguity and atmosphere expected of a short film, not to mention a shortage of actual events within the narrative, yet this content has been stretched out with confident optimism that audiences will be satisfied with style alone. In the end, the journey is far more compelling than the destination.
The DVD release includes a handful of interviews from key cast/crew members, as well as a trailer for the film.
Entertainment Value: 4.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 3/10