Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Barry Berk
Screenplay: Barry Berk
Starring: Lionel Newton, Deon Lotz, Jay Anstey
Synopsis is here
Sleepers Wake is difficult to talk about as it does little to offend, but isn't strong enough to provoke. It's premise deals with a grief stricken man (Newton), who has recently lost his wife and daughter to a car crash, in which he may have been drunk at the wheel. While recuperating at his brother in laws hideaway cabin, he bonds with a rebellious seventeen year old girl, also recovering from loss. As they grow closer, they slowly become more aware of the troublesome elements surrounding them.
Sleepers Wake treads familiar territory. The idea of an older man being blindsided by such youth is one that has reverberated ever since Vladimir Nabokov penned Lolita. Here the character is terrified of the dangers but is slowly seduced by more primal urges. Lost in a waking dream, our protagonist's view is blurred by the recent events, illustrated by a liberal use of rack focusing, we view things like he does, fuzzy and unfocused. Only gaining a certain sense of clarity when Jackie (Anstey) pours into the frame.
Anstey's Jackie is the most pivotal role. A complex, full figured bundle of hormones, grief and youth. Lashing out at everything and everyone in equal measure, she is the films strongest performer. A daring performance that doesn't sit comfortably with the viewer throughout. A girl who has confused her needs of a father figure, confidant and lover due a tragic and complicated family dynamic.
It is Anstey that cements the central relationship, and we often feel the tension. However with this said, we do not feel it elsewhere. Many secondary characters and their revelations feel underwritten and the events that take place have a perfunctory feel to them. We garner what will happen very quickly and the directors visuals and storytelling leave little to the imagination.
The films performances do what they need to do, and when the film delves into primal metaphors, we gain the hint of something of a bit more more poignant. But Sleepers Wake in no way surprises or truly satisfies. It is film that fades away quickly with each passing moment.