Musician turned director Pavel Khvaleev is back with this fourth film, Sleepless Beauty, wherein a young woman named Mila is kidnapped by a shadowy organization. The film opens with an attempted political assassination then quickly switches to Mila who, after being kidnapped, wakes up in a room she can’t escape. A loudspeaker announces the place as Recreation, informs her she will not be allowed to sleep, and gives her a vague schedule. Meanwhile, there are frequent cuts to a deep web chat platform where people are watching this for entertainment while the admins discuss what is happening like scientists watching an experiment. As her time in captivity progresses the daily activities become more and more extreme in an effort to break down her mind.
Movies are supposed to be approached with a willing suspension of disbelief, but I feel that is harder and harder to do in the world we live in. Given the chemical attacks that have been allegedly carried out by Russia and North Korea, it is hard to suspend my disbelief enough to think anyone would kidnap and brainwash someone in the way this movie portrays when there are clearly easier, cheaper methods available for arranging an assassination. That being said, the brainwashing premise was interesting and captivating enough to keep the movie interesting, there was just always a nagging voice in the back of my head saying how ridiculously unnecessary this would be.
Sleepless Beauty has solid pacing, though at times it comes at the expense of clarity. There are some unexplained areas that are intentionally left ambiguous, such as the twins who pick Mila up after she is let out and who or what is Recreation, and while this allows the movie to flow well, it adds to the frustration that the premise seems farfetched and unnecessary. I think another ten minutes or so to give some kind of deeper insight into the administrators and their minions would have been useful, as shadowy organizations are not nearly as frightening to me as the stuff that governments and corporations get up to on a regular basis.
While I understand all people are different, I have a hard time believing the actions taken in this movie would prevent someone from sleeping. Being made to wear a virtual reality headset and exposed to sporadic or consistent loud noises would not keep me awake, but then I’ve fallen asleep standing up at a rock concert, so I may not be the most typical person to weigh in on this.
Visually, there is plenty to enjoy about this movie. The primary opening sequences when Mila is being shown through various cameras while she is out and about is wonderful, and the music choices for that sequence were perfect. The animations feel like what would happen if Terry Gilliam ever used his Monty Python animation style to create body horror, which was cool. That said, I found the art direction for those sequences more interesting than disturbing, but then I have watched a fair amount of horror and may just be desensitized at this point. Also, all of the effects in Sleepless Beauty look great and realistic, which is always a nice touch with any suspense or horror film.
The only real performance of note in this film is Polina Davydova as Mila. Davydova may not have many acting credits, but her performance here was spectacular. Her character is given just enough screen time to establish normality, and then is put through cruel, grueling psychological torture, and at every turn Davydova makes the suffering, the distress, and the dissociation feel deeply, truly real.
If you are into brainwashing and psychological horror, there is plenty to like about Sleepless Beauty. Polina Davydova delivers a powerful lead performance and the production values are great, but the movie falls a little flat when it comes believability. I hope Pavel Khvaleev keeps making movies, because he has a good eye, and I think with a solid script and budget he could make something legendary.
Sleepless Beauty is available now on VOD via Epic Pictures Group.