Saturday, October 15, 2016

In short: Sleepwalker (1984)

Well-off siblings Alex (Bill Douglas) and Marion (Heather Page) Britain – subtle, the subtext is not – live and loathe each other in a rather broken home out somewhere in the country. Alex suffers from sleepwalking attacks coupled with violent outbursts, and Marion clearly isn’t a fountain of mental stability either. Tonight, Marion has invited Angela Paradise (Joanna David) – clearly friend of the Victorian adage that women should be seen and not heard and probably not seen either - and her utterly vile upperclass yuppie husband Richard (Nickolas Grace) for dinner and to stay the night. Marion befriended Angela “in the hospital”, and Angela is clearly feeling the need to do Marion some kind of good turn.

Dinner doesn’t go terribly well: Richard might just be the shittiest product of Thatcherite yuppiedom imaginable – with a side-line in homophobia – which makes Alex as a proponent of gentility liberalism quite, quite angry; Marion flirts outrageously with Richard (eww) and uses every opportunity to antagonize her brother with hints at their past the others can only vaguely comprehend; Angela pretends everything’s perfectly alright; and Alex grows increasingly unhinged.

So it’s not much of a surprise the following night will end in a bloodbath.

Saxon Logan’s long lost Sleepwalker is really quite the thing, and nearly as brilliant as its more excitable proponents suggest it to be. Some of the film’s strength is certainly drawn from the conciseness that comes from it being a fifty minute short feature, so there’s no space for filler or time for losing focus, and Logan certainly doesn’t ever lose it.

This is obviously very much a film of its time, mind you, a film that wears (a perfectly appropriate to the times and place) anger on its sleeves and whose politics are generally as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face. But then, some things are better spoken of unsubtly and with great vigour, which Sleepwalker does.

It is rather difficult to dislike a film that starts out as an angry – and sometimes also quite funny – rant at 80s conservatism (under whose children we of course still suffer) with added bits and bobs that remind me of the sub-genre of the giallo that mostly concerns itself with unpleasant rich people being violent and shitty to one another, and ends as a blue-lit slasher that nicely nods in the direction of Dario Argento’s kind of giallo. It’s even more difficult to dislike it when it is note for note so good at all this genre-mixing, providing what could be chaos with aesthetic unity, style and panache.

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