Mona Fastvold’s thriller The Sleepwalker tells the ominous story of two-half sisters and the eerie unfolding of their family secrets.
The dreary indie film begins with “Kaia” (Gitte Witt) and her boyfriend “Andrew” (Christopher Abbott) living in an inherited estate centered in the woodlands of Massachusetts. One night, when her half-sister “Christine” (Stephanie Ellis) calls her for help, Kaia drives into town to pick her up only to be informed that Christine not only left her fiancé in Boston, but is 14 weeks pregnant with his child. Christine’s drama interrupts Kaia and Andrew’s serene life on the estate, bringing up memories from a childhood fire that left Kaia physically and emotionally scarred. The next day, Christine’s fiancé “Ira” (Brady Corbet) arrives from Boston and Kaia agrees to let him stay the night. Ira is immediately off-putting, commenting on Christine’s behavior as “not the best” and “we might have to start tying her up.” Hilarious! … Not.
The history of the four characters bubbles to the surface, ranging from Christine’s sleepwalking issues and erratic behavior to Andrew’s violent past of beating his ex-girlfriend (a far cry from Abbott’s role as sensitive Charlie in HBO’s Girls). Christine and Kaia use their family bonding opportunity to frolic in a lake, dance around, and discuss Andrew’s past anger management issues. When the sisters are with their boyfriends, director Fastvold never misses an opportunity to show them in the midst of rough sexual intercourse, not particularly adding any depth to the story.
While family tension rises, Ira uses the opportunity to flirt with – no, not his pregnant fiancé – but Kaia, and Christine resumes to her childlike ways and sleepwalks her way into the woods. Her sudden disappearance leads to the formation of the trio’s search-and-rescue team (accompanied by Sondre Lerche’s and Kato Adland’s chilling score).
Despite their psychotic, maniacal, and bizarre characters, the four main actors give strong, raw performances to make them come to life. But the best elements of The Sleepwalker are not found in the script or the acting, but the gloomy, quiet world Fastvold creates. During flashbacks of Kaia and Christine’s childhood, we see two young girls in their nightgowns and socks roaming shadowed hallways, but the ominous music is at the forefront instead of the action. Although the content is dull (and unnecessarily sexualized), the underexposure and sound mixing give the audience something to focus on as the narrative drags. Overall, what is supposed to be a psychological thriller is ultimately a sleeper.
Top Photo: Gitte Witt as “Kaia” with Stephanie Ellis as her troubled sister “Christine”
Bottom Photo: Gitte Witt as “Kaia” and Christopher Abbott as angry “Andrew”
Although most of the conversations between sisters Kaia and Christine revolve around their boyfriends, they also reflect on their traumatic childhood events that are just now resurfacing.