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TIFF ’23 Review: ‘Sleep’ delivers disturbing night terrors

‘Sleep’ turns sweet dreams into nightmares when a man’s overnight activities turn dangerous

A scene from 'Sleep'
A scene from 'Sleep' courtesy of TIFF
A scene from 'Sleep' courtesy of TIFF

‘Sleep’ turns sweet dreams into nightmares when a man’s overnight activities turn dangerous, pushing his wife over the edge.

If someone feels unwell, one of the first questions tends to be, “Are you getting enough sleep?” But for some people, sleep is the cause of their ailment. Sleepwalking is a pretty common disorder that varies in severity with the biggest concern being those who unconsciously leave the confines of their home. But there are also people who talk, eat, perform various tasks or violently lash out during their slumber. Most conditions are harmless, but others are troubling and require intervention. In Sleep, an expecting father begins to have unusual nighttime habits that become increasingly alarming.

Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi) and Hyun-su (Lee Sun-kyun) are expecting their first child in a few weeks. One night, Soo-jin wakes up to a loud noise and finds Hyun-su sitting up in bed. He utters the words, “someone’s inside,” then lies back down. His strange behaviour becomes a nightly occurrence and increases in severity, causing Soo-jin to be afraid of what he might do next. Her mother suggests protective symbols and a shaman to determine if there’s a supernatural cause, but they opt for modern medicine. As his symptoms persist, they begin to differ on the cause of his nighttime activities and the possible solution.

The film centres on a debate between the couple as both present persuasive arguments for the source of Hyun-su’s sleep disorder. The logical reason is a medical condition. Tests confirm he is experiencing abnormal sleep patterns, which the doctor recommends they treat with proven methods of detection and restraint, as well as medication. Soo-jin becomes convinced the cause is supernatural. A malevolent spirit wants to hurt their family and her husband is the conduit. Her fear for their baby and his refusal to even consider her theory drives her to the brink of madness. Both are sure they can overcome the problem, but key questions become: which one of them is right and what are the consequences if they can’t come to an agreement?

Regardless of the cause, Hyun-su’s behaviour is very creepy. Living with someone that could perform horrible acts in their sleep and not remember in the morning would be unsettling for anyone. However, Soo-jin’s behaviour becomes equally frightening as she desperately tries to keep their baby safe, eventually resorting to any means necessary. The situation grows tenser the longer his sleep disorder continues, drawing audiences into a home thick with fear and anxiety. However, that doesn’t prepare anyone for the shock-filled last act.

Sleep had its North American premiere in the Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Read other reviews from the festival.

Director: Jason Yu
Starring: Lee Sun-kyun and Jung Yu-mi

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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