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Sleep (Schlaf) (Limited Edition)

Arrow Video // Unrated // January 25, 2022
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by William Harrison | posted February 25, 2022 | E-mail the Author

THE FILM:

This German psychological-horror import is directed by Michael Venus and stars Gro Swantje Kohlhof and Sandra Hüller. When flight attendant Marlene (Hüller) begins having disturbing visions of men committing suicide at a hotel, her daughter Mona (Kohlhof) worries she is having a psychological or emotional breakdown. But Marlene discovers an advertisement in a magazine confirming the mysterious hotel is a real place, so she travels to that town alone in an attempt to determine why the building keeps appearing in her dreams. At the hotel, Marlene has a psychotic episode that sends her to local hospital in a catatonic state. Mona decides to travel to the hotel, too, and gets to know the owner and his wife, Otto (August Schmölzer) and Lore (Marion Kracht), who have their own issues and unpleasant ties to Germany's past. As Mona dives deeper into the town's secrets, Sleep suggests that she may share some of her mother's ties to the community.

If you absolutely must have a linear plot and clear delineation of events to enjoy a film, this thriller is not for you. From the opening scene, which offers a spooky visual clue you may miss, it is often difficult to determine what is reality and what is dream. The film purposely cuts back and forth between narratives, and, as Mona searches for the truth, her experiences at the hotel are increasingly out-of-body or within a heightened reality. Director Venus provides some transcending visuals and interesting practical effects, and Sleep hints at a demonic presence, rooted in past sins, that haunts the town. The film also offers uniquely German themes of the danger of fanatical nostalgia and the desire of the affluent to recreate a violent past.

I can summarize the plot by saying the film is about Mona's search for answers about her mother's predicament, but actually viewing Sleep is more of an experience of sight and sound than a traditional psychological thriller. There are interesting ancillary characters, like local resident Christoph (Max Hubacher), who Mona pines for, and Trude (Agata Buzek), a mysterious, unsettling woman who appears in Mona's dreams. In the included bonus material, the director says he leaned on folklore from The Brothers Grimm, as well as themes of generational trauma and isolation. That makes Sleep a sort of twisted, dark fairytale with an angsty undercurrent. While I did not always know what I was watching, Venus has certainly created a unique viewing opportunity here.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

Arrow Video provides an excellent 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image for the film that handles the stylistic elements with ease. Colors are gorgeously saturated, whether presented in heightened dreamlike excess or in more natural landscapes and costumes. Fine-object detail and texture and strong, and wide shots are crystal clear. Shadow detail, black levels and highlights all check out, and I noticed no issues with aliasing or noise reduction.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix presents the film in its original German language. There is also a 2.0 German LPCM mix included. The interesting and unsettling sound effects are important here, and this mix makes great use of the surrounds and subwoofer. Dialogue is clear and unfettered with distortion, and the score is nicely blended into the mix. This is a nicely atmospheric and immersive soundtrack. English SDH subtitles are offered.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This single-disc Arrow Video Limited Edition release arrives in a clear case with two-sided artwork; one the original poster art and the other newly commissioned artwork. The case is wrapped in a slipcover. Inside you get a two-sided poster with variants of the new artwork and a booklet with essays and technical information. The extensive bonus material includes: an Audio Commentary by Sean Hogan and Kim Newman, who are film critics; A Strange Dark Magic (16:38/HD), which dives into dark fairy tales; Sleepwalking Through National Trauma (22:13/HD), which concerns some of the film's themes; Dream & Folklore in Sleep (11:13/HD); This is No Dream... (2:17/HD), which is an introduction from Venus; Talking in Their Sleep (26:04/HD), a virtual conversion between Venus and Kohlhof; A Dream We Dream Together (16:07/HD), about COVID-19's effect on independent film festivals; Making Dreams Come True (2:46/HD); Deleted Scenes (4:42 total/HD); Marlene's Sketches (HD); Image Galleries (HD); and the Trailer (1:39/HD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Though not necessarily a film for those who demand a linear plot and clear resolution, Michael Venus's German psychological thriller Sleep offers a very unique, immersive and unsettling viewing experience. Arrow Video pulls out all the stops with a Limited Edition that is stacked with bonus materials. Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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