I Could Make a Better Movie Than In My Sleep… In My Sleep!

04/28/2010 4:00 AM |

In My Sleep

Directed by Allen Wolf

Thanks to the magic of editing, movies are uniquely equipped to grapple with issues of memory. So it’s easy to get excited about any movie—but especially a thriller—that wrestles with the powers of recall. Especially a lack of them. Like, Memento. Or, like one about a known sleepwalker with a repressed and sordid childhood who wakes up with a bloody knife on his bedroom floor the morning after his best friend’s wife was stabbed to death—and can’t remember anything about the night before. In My Sleep, however—despite its tremendous score and a few solid performances—fails to outperform the expectations set by its made-for-cable aesthetic. 

It revolves around Marcus (Crusoe’s Philip Winchester), a sex-addict, client-fucking masseuse, and parasomniac. “What’s that?” one character actually asks. Well, it’s a sleepwalker who retains a high-level of functionality while amnesically somnambulating, like a blacked-out drunk without the drunk. To keep himself out of any more trouble after he seduces his best friend’s wife (Kelly Overton), he gets the upstairs neighbor-girl (Lacey Chabert) to handcuff him to his headboard at night. Yet he still tends to wake up unbound to find a few miles on the car’s trip meter or his body covered in blood of a blood type different from his own. Is he a sleepwalking serial killer? Or the victim of a (probably vindictive) set-up? 

You should already know the answer—as a hint, keep in mind that he slept with his best friend’s wife days before he may have committed her murder—but it isn’t the predictability that makes In My Sleep a dud: it’s the sloppy filmmaking. The movie leans heavily on lay-it-all-out dialogue (“I’ve been having dreams! They’re trying to tell me something!”) and spelled-out metaphors (a police detective with a taste for nuts and seeds that more than once require “cracking”); it introduces waking hallucinations and cryptic symbological dream sequences only to fold them into resolutions so neat they’re lazy: Marcus’ recurring nightmares have a monster with a keyhole for a face in them because it turns out that as a kid he witnessed something traumatic—wait for it—through a keyhole! As Marcus’ childhood comes flooding back to him late in the film, he muses, “I don’t know why I never remembered this.” Maybe because you never lived through a narrative’s dramatic climax before? 

But for all the visibility of its creaky, clumsy machinery—the final image is of a seagull flying into a sunset—the movie sports a handful of virtues, like Tim Draxl’s potentially breakthrough performance as Marcus’ cheery-then-grieving best friend (or is he?), whom the actor plays with an easy Saarsgardian charm. But In My Sleep‘s most prominent strength is Conrad Pope’s score; his brash, anxious, angsty strings supply an old-fashioned gravity, evoking decades-worth of (better) L.A.-crime movies, not least the non-shower-scene portions of Bernard Hermann’s haunting Psycho score. Like the Max Steiner music in Micmacs, Pope’s orchestral compositions make the movie seem more interesting than it is—they create more suspense, and inject more mystery, than the edited images produce on their own.

Opens April 30