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Sleep Film Review: A Nightmare Awakens

A woman holds a newborn baby looking at her husband in Jason Yu's film Sleep

Jason Yu’s haunting debut feature Sleep dissects how far a couple will go to protect their newborn baby when a sinister force enters their bedroom.

Director: Jason Yu
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Run Time: 95′
UK & Ireland Release: July 12, 2024 in cinemas
US Release: September 27, 2024 in theaters

The unpredictability of what will appear in our dreams can sometimes keep us awake at night. There’s no telling what will be awakened when you close your eyes and drift off to sleep. For Hyun-su (Lee Sun-kyun), it’s more than just what fantasy he will conceive when his head hits the pillow. Something, or someone, is inside of him, controlling what he does when he’s asleep.

It’s not just the typical sleep talking and sleepwalking, though. Hyun-su is eating raw fish, scratching his face until it bleeds, trying to jump out of his apartment window, all whilst he’s in deep sleep.

Hyun-su’s wife Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi) relentlessly tries to come up with new ways of helping this malevolent force inside of Hyn-su retreat, especially as their first child is due any moment. One doctor intervenes and prescribes pills for Hyun-su, which do more harm than good. Soo-jin is kept awake all night worrying something may happen, losing sleep over the thought of her husband growing even more unlike himself. Once the baby arrives, Soo-jin padlocks herself into the bathroom, sleeping in the bath whilst Hyun-su bangs on the door, getting louder with each knock. What remedy will get Hyun-su back to normality again?

In his debut feature Sleep (Jam), newcomer Jason Yu manages to create a chilling, claustrophobic atmosphere throughout the entire 95-minute runtime exceptionally well. There’s no break to even take a breath. You’re hooked from the get-go, involved so personally into Hyun-su and Soo-jin’s lives as the horror unravels in front of their eyes. It’s (thankfully) not full of jumpscares for the sake of it, although it is very loud. But it’s justifiably loud. When you hear that noise in the middle of the night it sounds like the most raucous thing your ears have ever apprehended. The sound in Sleep, carefully overseen by Gong Tae-won and Park Seong-ho, works in creating that fear over and over, this time whilst wide awake and hiding behind a bag of popcorn.

An Asian couple sits on a sofa looking at something in fear, holding a small dog and some papers, in Jason Yu's film Sleep
Sleep (Curzon)

As much as it’s a tale about a sinister force haunting a soon to be father, it analyses how a couple can, and should, work together to solve problems as a duo, and not run away from things even when they get overwhelmingly tough. Of course the bold sign that hangs central on the living room wall reads “Together we can overcome anything”, suggesting they are a pair that do everything together anyway. The joint outcome they want is for their child to be safe and free from harm. If that means trying every ludicrous treatment, including remedies headed by Soo-jin’s mum (Lee Kyung-jin) who is obsessed with the occult, then so be it.

So far, 2024 has been hit and miss for horror features, but Sleep earns a top-spot on the list. It ever so slightly surpasses both Late Night with the Devil and In a Violent Nature, two intensely unsettling films which are making the horror community shout from their rooftops how great they are. If you’re looking for something to keep you up at night wondering if the noises you hear are real or just your imagination trying to trick you, Sleep is the ideal watch. But be warned: it really is nightmare fuel.

Sleep will be released in UK & Irish cinemas on July 12, 2024 by Curzon and in US theaters on September 27, 2024 by Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing.

Sleep: Trailer (Curzon)
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