2024 Milwaukee Film Festival: Day Ten “Sleep”

One of my mottos of film festival going is to “see the South Korean movies.” Especially the genre fare. South Korea has been making some of the most exciting genre movies this century. Which made the late night screening of SLEEP almost a no brainer.

SLEEP begins like many horror films, seemingly innocuously. A happily married couple is expecting their first child. They have the motto “Together, we can overcome anything.” prominently placed on their apartment wall. But, after promising beginnings, the husband  Hyeon-soo (Lee Sun-kyun who played a prominent role in PARASITE) has his career as an actor stalling and is being reduced to bit parts. He’s under a lot of stress and isn’t sleeping well. And it gets a lot worse as he starts sleepwalking and saying phrases like “He’s inside” in his sleep. It frightens his wife Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi). And his actions grow worse, creating fears of what will happen when the baby arrives. Especially as medical treatment does not seem to be working. And her coping with his actions is depriving her of sleep too.

I’ll leave the plot synopsis at that. Part of the fun of the film is how things spiral and complicate themselves. There are suggestions that there are supernatural forces at work. Or maybe it’s just sleep deprivation, a common thing with soon to be and new parents, working its tricks. South Korean films are known for their tonal shifts and wild twists and turns and SLEEP is no exception. The film just gets crazier and crazier as it goes along resulting in a wild climax. Which somehow manages to work in a PowerPoint presentation into its craziness.

Now there are a couple of leaps in logic here. The husband sensibly offers to find another place to sleep until he’s better, but the wife won’t hear of it. Medical staff seem mostly unconcerned about the nature of the husband’s episodes.

And, this seems like more of an exercise in genre than a film with anything great to say. But, as an exercise in genre, it’s enormously fun. And scary. And crazy. There are moments when I was reminded of THE SHINING, especially during a sequence of a car ride into the country, and the general suggestion that supernatural forces may be pushing a father to harm his family. It remains more grounded than THE SHINING to the end, but it certainly feels like THE SHINING is in the film’s DNA.

So, this was a ton of fun. And the audience was clearly enjoying the film along with me.

Saturday was the last showing of SLEEP at the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival but there are still plenty of fine films playing at the festival. I expect SLEEP will be a fine deep cut for those who celebrate the Halloween season with a host of horror film.

The 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 11, 2024 until April 25, 2024. Tickets can be purchased via MKEFILM.ORG.