The Sleeper 2012 Review
The Sleeper 2012
Directed by: Justin Russell
Starring: Brittany Belland, Tiffany Arnold, Riana Ballo
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
One of the best films of last year was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. A stylish mix of Hollywood-noir and action flick, it was propelled by a unique blend of vulnerable, emotional background players and a restrained and mysterious protagonist in Ryan Gosling. It’s deliberate ‘false retro’ ambience gave it an almost hypnotic dream-like vibe. It felt like an eighties throwback that was comfortably seated amongst modern day conventions.
Whilst The Sleeper is nowhere near Drive in terms of its class and quality, it does full heartedly attempt to create a similar environment for its plot to unravel within. Justin Russell has tried admirably on modest funding to capture and transport us back to the glory days of the slasher genre and in a few places, he succeeds.
Of the five-hundred or so slasher films that I have listed in my A-Z, you could say that 85% or more are based on the formula and methodology put in place by John Carpenter’s Halloween. I have often wondered why so few entries borrow from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, which was another genre template setter that has bundles of neat pluses. Well, The Sleeper is one of those that pays tribute solely to that title and aims for the same style of giving its antagonist the chance to convey his presence through prank calls and eerie vocalisation.
It’s 1981 in a snow coated small American town. The girls of Alpha Gamma Theta sorority throw a party and invite two new friends that they met earlier. Unbeknownst to them, they are also joined by an ominous uninvited presence. Hiding in the shadows, he begins watching the youngsters and later continuously calling them and speaking in a spooky deranged tone. After one of the co-eds disappears during the night, the Police are called in. The snow has made travel around the location awkward however, and before long they realise that they are trapped against a vicious and maniacal killer
Shadows Run Black, Home Sweet Home and Don’t go in the Woods. Look at those titles for a second and remember the feeling you had whilst watching them. Now these are awful movies, but they have something that I never find in more modern entries: an abundance of charm. Whilst The Sleeper doesn’t quite capture the same charisma, it stands apart solely because it at least has the ambition to try. I admire that they have made the effort to cast our minds back to that forgotten period and even if the continuity doesn’t always live up to the intent, it does give the film an authentic allure.
I have never been the biggest fan of killers without masks, but the mysterious and barely characterised (he is billed in the credits simply as ‘The Sleeper’) nut job here does a good enough job of being a creepy bogeyman. His weapon of choice is a claw hammer, which is one that we don’t see used often enough in slasher cinema, and he stalks through the snow with an impressive air of malevolent menace. The first gore scene that we get is said tool smashing the head of a sleeping bunny and to be fair it is extremely fake and paper-mâché-like. I was thinking that the rest would be equally as rubbish, but surprisingly, some of the later murders are actually quite grisly, including a couple of very good throat slashings. I am not sure if it was a good idea that they used the cruddiest one first, but maybe it was better to get it out of the way as early as possible. At one point, one of the girls is seen alone in a swimming pool and as we were on the whole retro/pay tribute tip, I was hoping for a rehash of the memorable hackings from either The Prowler or Fatal Games. That didn’t quite happen, but what we got was decent enough. I especially liked the hokier than hokey rolling eyes post-decap shot!
Russell’s use of sound is by far the film’s most credible strength. He has put together a decent retro-ish accompaniment on his pocket-money budget and the score during the horror scenes is classy and neat. He manages to pull off the odd shock too and some of his low-angled cinematography is brilliantly structured and very impressive. The long, wide-panned views of the frost coated streets really helped to build the claustrophobia of the small town in peril and the aforementioned haunting theme sets it all off perfectly. There’s a tense chase sequence towards the end, some very good POV stalking shots and a classic slashertastic conclusion that no feature that’s following the typical guidelines should be without. The acting is fairly wooden throughout, but not as bad as others that I have seen and even if the script does have a few glaring inconsistencies, it gets the job done.
By far my favourite part of the movie – and if you love your slashers served with a slice of cheese on top, then you’ll enjoy it too – was the dance scene. Oh my gawd. Think the Lightening Strikes sequence from Small Town Massacre, but worse…much worse. This is where Justin Russell is really showing his knowledge of the category. 80s slashers WERE cheesy and it’s one of the best things for us to notice now when we look back. I read a review somewhere online that was really critical for including this, but obviously that writer didn’t get the joke. I did; and it was great and surely only played for laughs. I mean, they even do the ‘staying’ alive’ jig…!
I mentioned earlier about the continuity not doing as much as the determination to keep us believing that it’s 1981 and it is perhaps one of the main disappointments about The Sleeper. Whilst $30,000 is very small in terms of a production budget, I think that the wardrobe department could have done a better job to make the girls look more ‘eighties-like’. Their hairstyles and clothes are all very modern and if you caught the feature halfway through, you would never in a million years guess that it was aiming to transport us back thirty years ago in to the past. You’ve all been to eighties parties, right? You all know how to dress. It’s just a shame that they didn’t work a tiny bit harder with the look of the characters to add the finishing touch. Also, the rotary-dial phone was a neat addition, but it’s just a bit weird that they forgot to use it also in the Police chief’s office. It’s either that they didn’t notice, or he had been time traveling and grabbed himself a digital touch-tone and brought it back from the future to show off to his colleagues on the force
The IMDB has numerous user reviews listed for this feature, but they are bewildering and a terrible guide for prospective audiences. There are one or two that have rated the movie as a 10/10, which leads me to believe that they were written by people with an affiliation to the production team as a form of prior marketing. Then there are many that are at a stingy 1/10, which is the complete opposite end of the scale and it seems like they were posted by someone with something against those behind the flick or the director. A more realistic score would be 5.5 as The Sleeper has some really nice and interesting touches. Slasher films are meant to be fun and I can only appreciate the fact that someone would have enough love for the genre to go the full hog and helm a real tribute. A tribute that even references the time when horror and in particular slasher cinema was really hot stuff.
I hope that we get to see a few more titles this year and I would also like to see another effort from señor Russell in the near future