Say what you want about creepypasta stories, they might be childish and often disappointing and dumb, but I have a soft spot for them.
My favourite one is the Russian sleep deprivation experiment, according to which researchers in the late 1940s kept five people awake for fifteen days using an experimental gas-based stimulant, under the communist regime.
This fictional story has been adapted to a short movie (appropriately titled The Russian Sleep Experiment) but never to a feature-length film. Thus, when I first heard about Sleep No More, a new American horror flick supposedly based on that creepypasta, I did everything to put my hands on it as soon as possible. I said ‘supposedly’ because, in actuality, Sleep No More is set in an American college during the 80s, as opposed to the original Russian setting during WWII.
Before I introduce the plot, I need to say that I hated this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a terrible movie: there are a few aspects I thought worked well and I believe many people would find Sleep No More enjoyable. Despite it not being an objectively bad film, it truly disappointed and frustrated me. Let me try to explain why, starting with the story and its setting.
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It’s 1986 and a group of grad students are close to discovering what happens to the human brain after staying awake for 200 hours, when something goes terribly wrong with a test subject: in fact, the guy is shown in the opening scene having demonic visions to the point he kills himself by carving his own eyes out and slicing his throat open. Here I already have some big issues with Sleep No More and its premise: why setting the movie in the 80s and in America, a time and place where such experiments were not very lucky to receive any green light, especially from a university. Why not setting the entire story either in a Russian gulag or in a Nazi concentration camp during the war? That would have given the experiment a reason to take place, since both Communists and Nazis (sadly and for real) liked to try crazy theories on human prisoners.
The only reason why this flick takes place in the 80s is that this time period seems to be more marketable nowadays, as I explained already while reviewing Summer of ’84. This means that either the production companies behind the project or the filmmakers sacrificed the quality of their product just to make it easier to sell. I know how the industry works, but these decisions always enrage me.
Back to the story, after their department is shut down, the team moves forward in secret – only this time on themselves. Are you kidding me? So, they just witnessed their test subject committing suicide in the most gruesome way possible, but they’re aware to end up like him for the sake of what? Oh yeah, if this wasn’t dumb enough, their motivation surely is: they want to stay awake for 200 hours straight because, get this, this way they won’t need to sleep anymore, which in turn will make them more productive. As though this wasn’t bad enough, their final goal is to prove that sleeping is a human flaw, therefore they want to help humankind not to fall asleep anymore so that the world could be a better and more productive place!
This goes beyond any suspension of disbelief! If you can get past the stupidity of this premise and of the whole basis of the movie, then good for you, hopefully you’ll have an entertaining time. Personally, this is one of the most ridiculous premises I’ve ever heard and, most importantly, it ruins a concept that’s pure horror gold!
Premises and ideas aside, Sleep No More has also a huge script-related issues, that of not knowing how to carry the plot along: an endless number of times in the movie, characters just say things like “we can’t give up now”, “we have to carry on”, “it’s too late to go back”, without any motivation. Since the characters obviously know they’re in danger from one point onwards, the script doesn’t even try to motivate their will and, instead, it just makes them spit out obnoxious lines of dialogue nobody in their right mind would say in such a situation. Again, this could have been avoided by setting the story in a concentration camp or something like that, where naturally the prisoners wouldn’t have any saying into whether to carry on with the experiment or to give up.
The previous paragraphs pretty much sum up the main reasons why I hated this movie. However, as I stated before, Sleep No More features some positive aspects that can’t be denied and might please some horror fans.
For instance, the gore is very well-done and disgusting, which gives this supernatural horror flick a nasty taste that’s not easy to be found in this sub-genre nowadays. Also, despite the low budget, the production values are quite impressive, as the CGI is spotless, and cinematography and camera work really show how much effort was put into the presentation.
The pacing, which most horror films struggle with, is also rather consistent, making Sleep No More at least a never-boring experience.
Everything I didn’t mention either as a positive or a negative (for example the acting, the characters, the scary bits) falls basically in between, being neither exceptional nor terrible.
Overall, and despite my hatred which I feel the need to reiterate, Sleep No More is a slightly above average horror flick that might please fans of paranormal horror movie and people who are willing to completely switch their brain off for 90 minutes. As always, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to give Sleep No More a chance.
Sleep No More 6/10