Friday 22 November 2019

State Like Sleep (USA/Canada 2019: Dir Meredith Danluck)

At first glance, State Like Sleep advertises itself as a rather routine thriller, with an old fashioned setup involving a woman seeking the truth behind her husband's apparent suicide.

Katherine (Katherine Waterston) is a fashion photographer whose marriage to her TV and movie star husband Stefan (Michiel Huisman) has come to an end. While alone in their former home Stefan kills himself with a bullet to the head. A year after the events Katherine is still in grief, and also has to deal with the sudden confinement of her mother to hospital. Stefan's widow feels that there are aspects to her husband's murder which have not been adequately investigated, such as the fatal wound being on the right side of his head, although he was lefthanded.

Stefan was a secretive guy with a drug and alcohol problem (possibly the reason she left him) and a matchbook at his flat leads her to a seedy club and a meeting with the owner, the shady Emile (Luke Evans). Stefan's mother Anneke (Julie Khaner) remains hostile to Katherine, being left with Stefan's debts after his death. And when Katherine, who has moved into a hotel while she investigates, meets Edward (Michael Shannon), who has the room next door, her life shows every sign that she's unravelling, and can no longer trust what's she's being told.

As mentioned, while the plot description suggests something quite generic, State Like Sleep does something very interesting, and gradually turns from a thriller to a movie far more evasive and involving. As the title suggests, the feelings encountered during the stages of grief envelop the film, conveyed mainly through an astonishing performance by Waterston as Katherine. Her father Sam is also a fine actor, and not only does his daughter bear more than a passing resemblance to dad, she often acts like him too, conveying the pain of her predicament almost entirely through her eyes and little facial tics. This is not a movie stuffed with dialogue and is all the better for it.

Mainly locating the movie in Belgium also plays against the usual smart interiors and exteriors found in slick thrillers. The unimpressive backdrop of a rainsoaked, bedraggled Brussels is perfect for the sense of deepening gloom that enfolds the film. Add in a brooding, thoughtful soundtrack by Jeff McIlwain and David Wingo, State Like Sleep is a mood piece that isn't afraid to occasionally stray into the absurd or even funny (one scene has Katherine suffering a particularly bad hair day after hooking up with a one night stand with a particular sex kink). One could argue that it's tonally restless but I liked its mix of styles and Waterston is incredibly impressive. It's a watchable, smartly intense first feature from Meredith Danluck.

State Like Sleep is available for digital download from 18 November 2019

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