VERTICAL ENTERTAINMENT (2017)
Director: Jonathan Hopkins
Starring: Maggie Q, Kristen Bush, Sam Troughton, Will Kemp, William Hope, Sylvester McCoy
Sleep paralysis is horrendous.
There’s a surprising lack of horror movies centred on the terrifying phenomenon, and certainly no good ones – Dead Awake, The Nightmare and…Sleep Paralysis make up the Hall of Shame. Debutant Jonathan Hopkins enters Slumber into the mix and it gets off to a surprisingly decent start…
…then it begins to sag heavily by mid-point…
…then Sylvester McCoy arrives.
Dr. Alice Arnold (Q) has an interesting profession – monitoring people as they sleep, more to the point, monitoring brain activity in sleepwalkers and paralysis sufferers. Having lost her brother as a child to the phenomenon (and otherworldly forces), she became an expert in the field and devotes her time between her job and her family. When the Morgan family arrive at the medical facility and are all suffering from bizarre sleepwalking behaviours (involving garden shears, blenders and deceased babies…), Alice has her work cut out, but it’s their son Danny (Lucas Bond) who is the priority – he has been complaining about a night demon attacking him in the throes of paralysis and fears for his life. Immediately thrusting Alice back to her childhood, she must now unravel the mystery of the sleep demon before it’s too late.
Hey, that synopsis sounds pretty good, Slumber must be damn good?! It really isn’t.
The movie begins promisingly enough with a slow build, set mainly in the cold, clinical medical facility where the research is conducted and does a good job of introducing us to Alice, her family and a brief dive into her profession and colleagues. So far, so good, the sense of dread was being laid carefully. When the Morgan’s arrive, the movie begins to shift to a more conventional horror set-up, but still initially retains the consistent tone from before – creepy imagery in the kid’s bedrooms, lingering zooms to bedroom doors, hazardous sleepwalking behaviour all keep Slumber on a grounded plain. It’s when the movie decides to riff off The Exorcist (and most other horror/possession movies/Poltergeist/The Babadook) that things begin to fall apart very quickly. A combination of diabolical FX (including some hilarious slow-mo running), poor story-telling and some truly abysmal acting derail the movie and send it tumbling into C-movie territory.
Maggie Q tries her hardest to bring some credibility to the movie and generally performs admirably. The child actors were OK and things seemed to be under control. Arise, Sylvester McCoy – clearly still high on the stink of Radagast. What the fuck were they thinking? Hammier than a pig orgy, his bizarre, scatterbox approach to the role is utterly at odds with the movie and provides the final nail in the coffin. It’s mental. What makes things worse is the fact that whilst McCoy is dicking about whooping and spluttering, the rest of the cast are attempting to maintain order and levity – it’s so weird to see. It’s the strangest casting choice I’ve seen in a long while.
Whilst consistent in tone originally, at the midway point, the movie seems unable to decide on a direction to follow – is it a dark thriller or sophisticated horror? (Clue, it’s neither). The initial premise of peril whilst in paralysis was intriguing and executed well, leading to genuine intrigue to where the story could go and how nuanced this could now become. The first thirty minutes are so are genuinely decent. The classic horror tropes introduced with the Morgan family begin as a welcome addition but eventually outstay their welcome (another jump scare, another monster POV shot) leading to a typical urgent, overblown finale with no payoff.
Also, the demon itself, AKA Night Hag, doesn’t really manifest because of sleep paralysis or sleepwalking, it seemingly just wants to tuck into Danny’s soul and it just so happens he suffers from the pattern.
Did I mention the effects are horrendous? Low budget is utterly fine, but bad FX can really take you out of a movie.
There’s some good visuals and creepy shots in Slumber, and the opening act laid the foundations for a movie that should have been far better than it turned out. A mix of poor FX, Sylvester McCoy, inconsistent focuses and an uninspired third act sink the movie without a trace and you’ll be clamouring to forget this movie.
Yes, you’ll fall into a…slumber by the end.
December 5th 2017