Parasomnia is a broad term that covers a lot of sleep disorders. I even ran into the term in association with restless leg syndrome. But there is a severe disorder called Kleine-Levin Syndrome, also known as Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, where the sufferer spends a very large part of their lives asleep. In reality, it usually amounts to days at a time. In William Malone’s new thriller Parasomnia, we meet Laura, who sleeps about 90% of the time, making her a true Sleeping Beauty. Malone’s had a bit of an inconsistent history. He was responsible for the extremely disappointing remake of The House On Haunted Hill as well as the unfairly maligned feardotcom. His style is almost always over the top and often dominates anything that the story is trying to say. Much of that can also be said of Parasomnia, except here there is a wicked sardonic tale that manages to blend perfectly with the overactive style components. Is it possible that Malone has finally found a gene-splicing technique that has created the perfect stylish thriller? After spending some time with this DVD, I have to say that he has.
Laura (Wilson) is a teenaged girl who has spent most of that time asleep. She has no known family, so she spends all of that slumber time in a corner of a mental hospital. Her next-door neighbor happens to be one of the most notorious serial killers ever known. He has a strange hypnotic power that he has used to mesmerize others to do his diabolical deeds. His name is Byron Volpe (Kilpatrick), and the only way he can be safely contained is chained in a room with his face covered by a black hood. His cell looks like something out of a medieval torture chamber. Enter Danny (Purcell), a young artist who is at the hospital visiting his friend who is in rehab there. The two neighboring rooms make quite an emotional impact on the young man whose girlfriend has just left him. Volpe he finds morbidly fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Laura he is drawn to. He develops an overwhelming desire to protect her. When he discovers that an unethical researcher is about to take her away to use as a guinea pig, he swings into action and kidnaps, or rescues, depending on your point of view, the girl from her fate. It’s not easy taking care of a girl who is only awakes for minutes at a time. She is pretty much a blank slate, since she’s never been awake enough to experience everyday things like a car ride. To make things worse, Volpe appears to have a hold on her, able to dominate her dreams. It is here that she lives a terrifying life taunted and tormented by the killer. When his hold is able to control her few waking moments, the result puts both her and Danny on the radar of the police, particularly Detective Garrett, played by sci-fi genre favorite Jeffrey Combs. Danny decides that the only way to truly free Laura is to kill Volpe, but that won’t be easy. Still, there must be a showdown.
It’s obvious to anyone with even a passing knowledge of cinema that Malone has been influenced by the German expressionist filmmakers of the silent era. He credits The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari as the film’s obvious inspiration as well as the classic Svengali. Both deal with a hypnotic master of mental control, but the comparisons certainly don’t end there. The images are a cross between Hellraiser and something out of a Tim Burton fantasy. Malone shoots ad odd angles. It doesn’t hurt that this film is shot by his long-time collaborator, cinematographer Christian Sebaldt. They’re both known for using a 24mm lens instead of the traditional 35 mm. What’s strange is that the 24mm is much closer to the natural visual range of the human eye, yet the result is unsettling, to say the least. Perhaps it’s the combination of the unfamiliar viewing angle on film and the dark and stylish visuals that dominate the film. Whatever the cause, this is an amazing visual experience that is both compelling and unsettling. Malone introduces mechanical devices in the climax that are straight out of the expressionist style. You get the sense that this could easily have been a film of that silent era. Then there are the terrifying mazes of Laura’s dreamscape where she is pursued by Volpe. Like it or not, this is not a film you will be able to get out of your head for a very long time.
While Malone’s style and cinematic choices create the atmosphere of Parasomnia, a lot of credit has to be given to young actress Cherilyn Wilson, who finds herself at just 18 in her first starring role. There is an inherent difficulty with this film both for the director and the rookie actress. Wilson has to convey a lot of emotion while spending the majority of the film asleep. Yet even in her stillness, we know something is there inside stirring. And when she’s awake, she must become this incredibly naive blank slate. She accomplishes each of these tasks while making it all look so ridiculously easy. How do you create chemistry with another actor while just lying there? Don’t ask me. I don’t know, but Cherilyn Wilson knows. She knows.
Parasomnia is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. This movie is quite dark. Even when there is light the film is so desaturated that you really don’t see a lot of color. From time to time there are moments of colorful contrast. A mesmerized cello player in bright red stands in stark contrast to the darkness around her. Flesh tones are quite pale most of the time. I’m very disappointed that EI chose to send this film to me on DVD instead of Blu-ray. The compression artifacts found on this DVD ruin some of what I suspect is quite eye-catching. The disc has a few extras as well, so the bit rate just doesn’t do the film justice.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is not terribly expansive. There is a claustrophobic aspect to the film that requires a very limited mix. Dialog is fine. There are moments in the dreamscape scenes where the surrounds blow up just a bit and allow us some extra ear candy.
There is an Audio Commentary with William Malone. He talks a lot about the things that have inspired and influenced him. He has a lot of kind things to say about the cast and crew, and simply gushes over Wilson.
Making Of… : (14:05) A lot of raw footage and interview clips provided by on-set reporters for TV-Wire.
Interviews: (52:09) There are 8 with a play all feature. Each is sitting in a chair going over specific questions about the film. They average about 6 minutes.
Deleted Scenes: There are 3 with a play all. The longest is an alternative beginning that bookends with the film’s included coda.
There is also a music video and production stills.
This was one of the most original horror films I’ve seen in quite some time. Ironically Malone and Kilpatrick collaborated once on a failed television pilot called Sleepwalkers. I’m not sure what any of that was about, and it likely has little to do with this material except some of the subject matter. What we have here is a macabre fairy tale that would have made Tim Burton proud. A fairy tale with a twisted approach to some very old themes, which have never been presented in quite this fashion before. “Speaking of which, did you happen to see Sleeping Beauty?”
07/22/2010 @ 3:29 am
I agree with your review. Malone has created a consistently interesting, entertaining film and Wilson is fantastic in it. Really hope to see more from both sooner rather than later as Malone doesn’t really do many films (I believe feardotcom was his last feature prior to this).
07/22/2010 @ 4:16 am
Thanks Joe. We are working on getting a podcast interview with William Malone. Look for it soon…