State Like Sleep promises so much yet can’t quite keep up with its intriguing themes teased during its first two acts.
Katherine Grand (Katherine Waterstone) discovers her husband’s body, Belgian film star Stefan (Michiel Huisman) after an apparent suicide. A year later, Katherine is summoned back to Brussels to tend to her ill mother and deal with Stefan’s affairs. As she starts to delve deeper into his personal life, Katherine starts to uncover clues that suggest a wider conspiracy surrounding the circumstances of Stefan’s death.
The set-up for State Like Sleep is almost certainly intriguing enough to keep you in your seat. Writer/director Meredith Danluck utilises a neo-crime thriller aesthetic that wouldn’t look out of place on a Walter Presents watch list. It (naturally) feels very European with more in common with a Scandinavian mystery-thriller than anything – at one point I thought I was watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander playing detective. Avant-garde white space is prevalent during the first act, clinical and void of emotion, which reflects the themes of grief and anguish. As Katherine starts to delve deeper into her husband’s double-life the palette becomes more vivid and dare I say ‘dream-like’ which only adds to the viewers intrigue – conjuring up all sorts of internal theories on how the story may pan out.
The directing and cinematography certainly has verve yet, feels wholly distracting from what is ultimately sub-standard intrigue within the story. The film’s title suggests a dreamlike wariness to Katherine’s actions, suggesting that the untangling events aren’t necessarily coherent or sober. Yet this is never fully capitalised on. For example; there are several cues within the dialogue that suggest Katherine is controlled or oppressed, with leanings towards controlling parenting that never really amount to anything. Danluck took inspiration from a personal tragedy – the emotions and ‘lived-in’ dialogue do feel personable and cuts through in scenes that could otherwise be boring or seemingly irrelevant. This certainly helps when you have a strong cast to deliver your lines with Michael Shannon (Edward) and Waterstone’s rapport proving highly effective, even if their story is essentially side-lined for the unconvincing relationship between Katherine and Stefan – told by flashbacks that only add to preconceptions of a neatly packaged ending.
These kind of crime/mystery films tend to work better when the audience is made to feel part of the intrigue as it unfolds, allowing the viewer to piece the clues together on their own – sometimes several steps ahead of the protagonist – generating all kinds of wild and wonderful theories on how all the strands will come together for the final act. Unfortunately (and I mean this sincerely as I wanted State Like Sleep to succeed in this area), all of the detective work feels exclusive to Katherine and Katherine alone. When the reveal comes, it’s out of leftfield and has a pretty tenuous relation to the proceeding build-up. I couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated.
State Like Sleep is available on digital download now.