Sleep (2020) – Film Review
Director: Michael Venus
Cast: Gro Swantje Kohlhof, Sandra Hüller, August Schmölzer
Certificate: Not Rated
By Sarah Morgan
Not to be confused with the marathon Andy Warhol film of the same name, this German chiller is the stuff of nightmares – literally.
Some experts claim it explores the nation’s cultural identity – indeed, one of the many special features on this excellent release highlights the plot’s close ties to Germanic fairy tales – but you don’t need to be full conversed in the works of the Brothers Grimm to appreciate it.
Mona is a young woman who acts as her mother Marlene’s unofficial carer. Marlene holds down a job and can function in the everyday world, but is seemingly haunted by terrifying dreams involving a mysterious hotel. They’re so frightening, they literally leave her breathless, and it’s down to Mona to awaken her from them and ensure Marlene receives the medication she needs to keep her on an even keel.
However, on learning that the hotel is a real place, Marlene pays a visit, one that is so traumatic, it brings on a stupor that leaves her unable to move or communicate. Once again the dutiful Mona comes to her aid, but soon finds herself drawn into the establishment’s odd world.
Before long, she too is visited by strange visions involving an alternate universe that begins to reveal disturbing truths about the past which are having a horrifying impact on the present.
Unless you happen to be an aficionado of modern German cinema and TV, chances are none of the cast will be familiar, but their performances are sure to make them unforgettable.
Gro Swantje Kohlhof is superb as Mona, a dedicated, selfless girl whose desperation to help her mother sucks her into a world in which none of us would want to be trapped.
August Schmolzer is equally compelling as Otto, the hotel’s owner. He initially appears helpful and friendly, but is hiding a dark secret that binds him in a surprising way to both Mona and Marlene.
As well as codified signals to Grimms’ fairy tales, there are more obvious echoes of Stephen King here, particularly The Shining, but Sleep is by no means a copycat or even a homage – it’s a true original that will stand repeated viewing.