Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Questioning Murderous Motivations with The Sleeper: A Movie Review

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*here be minor spoilers.

Director/writer: Justin Russell.

Cast: Brittany Belland, Tiffany Arnold, Riana Ballo, John Bloom, Jessica Cameron, Jason Jay Crabtree, and Ali Ferda.

There have been many films in the past that involve serial killers and sororities. From Black Christmas (1974) to The House on Sorority Row (1983) and even to The Sorority House Massacre (1986), there are sorority sisters living in fear of a nameless killer. Justin Russell's debut is reminiscent of all of these. However, The Sleeper is most similar to When a Stranger Calls (1979). You just never know were the killer is in these films.

That killer brandishes a smallish looking claw hammer. He babbles into his rotary phone of "girls" and "coming to get you." The girls at the sorority house, to whom he is talking, take little interest. There is partying to do after all. Oblivious to his actions, the killer gets closer and closer to the sorority house. The bodies pile up and the killer's motivations never become clear. Why does he want to kill these girls?

That question is kept forever in mystery thanks to Russell's mysterious script and filmmaking style. It is really hard to determine why someone does something when they speak fewer than three or four lines. The Sleeper (Jason Jay Crabtree) manages: "nighty night" before a hammer strike. Later, he states "go to sleep" to another victim. References to nap time offer little additional info'. His meager abode under another building on campus will not give viewers many clues for his murdering ways. As well, Russell keeps the camera away from The Sleeper's face early in the picture. The tension mounts as little is given away from The Sleeper's face. Later, his only expressions involve a stony glare or anger. Maybe motivations do not matter when you are creating an homage to 80's slasher films.

The Sleeper is initially set in 1979. Another gruesome murder is unexplained and then the film shifts to 1981. Similarities to slasher films like Halloween (1978) begin to emerge. Both Michael Myers and The Sleeper kill with ordinary household implements and neither speak. The music is also similar to an '80s film. John Carpenter influences the soundtrack, which is performed by Gremln. Heavy bass guitars forever warn the viewer that something terrible is about to happen. And nowhere is that music more fear inducing than when the final girl has to face her killer. Brittany Belland plays Amy, the Laurie Strode (Halloween) of the film. Yet, The Sleeper is just like the films of the past and crazed killers can never really be vanquished.

And maybe this is where the film falters. Russell follows 80s films a little too closely. After all, the final scene is lifted straight from When a Stranger Calls. That last phone call is meant to incite terror, but many horror fans will have already predicted what will be said on the line. Maybe there were not enough resources to script something more elaborate than a final scream.

The Sleeper is a small budgeted film; yet, there still is some quality here. Outside of the first head smash, the death on screen is often brutal and mostly believable. The acting is performed well outside of a stuttering house warden. And, the pacing moves along at a quick clip. However, there is a strange pause in the middle of the film where a dance scene left this reviewer scratching his head. A choreographed dance routine seems a strange choice for a horror film.

All of these elements, comedic and otherwise, come together to form a fairly solid slasher film. Russell owes a lot of his filmmaking style to the 80s and his homage to horror films of the past is obvious. Outside of some predictability, The Sleeper is recommended for horror fans who enjoy indie filmmaking. Just don't expect the killer to enlighten you about why his spare time is spent bludgeoning folk. Evil can never be understood, after all.

Overall: 7 out of 10 (some tension, a good soundtrack, good acting, not many characters, lots of night shooting).

For more info', visit the film's fan page:

The Sleeper on Facebook

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