Sleepwalker DVD Review

Sleepwalker_pic_7What’s it about? Political differences, opposing moral standpoints and sexual rivalries abound when four people – wealthy yuppie couple Richard (Nickolas Grace) and Angela (Joanna David) Paradise and siblings Alex (Bill Douglas) and Marion (Heather Page) Britain – spend a drunken evening together at the latter’s run down family home. Events take a sinister, bloody turn due to the presence of a deranged attacker.

Verdict: As much a stinging satire on the changing face of Britain during the early years of Thatcherism as it is a creepy horror story, Saxon Logan’s Sleepwalker (15) is a genuine curate’s egg for a number of reasons. Not quite a short or feature length film – running as it does to 50 minutes – and disparately influenced by Giallo movies, James Whale’s The Old Dark House and the work of Lindsay Anderson, as well as featuring a rare performance by director Bill Douglas in front of the camera, Sleepwalker pleasingly defies easy categorisation.

Sleepwalker_pic_2Part black comedy, part atmospheric chiller and part Pinteresque drama, Logan’s directorial debut, which he also wrote, pits archetypal characters at each other’s throats – the money and status-obsessed Paradises and the more traditional, socially conscious Britains – in a decaying family home called ‘Albion’ that is a clear metaphor for the nation and period in which it is set.

Playing with the conventions of a number of genres, Logan’s unique hybrid of a film still feels thematically relevant and ahead of its time in terms of narrative construction close to 30 years later. Nightmare sequences, pitch-black dialogue, unexpected moments of horror and palpable tension collide in offbeat fashion as Logan both pays homage to his influences and inventively regurgitates them to pointedly hold up a mirror to early 80s British society. Far from jarring with what’s gone before, the drift into nightmarish horror towards the film’s climax compounds Sleepwalker’s unsettling tone and not-quite-right aura.

Sleepwalker_pic_5That Douglas, most famous for the austere, realist trilogy that bears his name, would so wholeheartedly embrace a leading role in a project far removed from his own speaks volumes about the belief he, and the other equally excellent cast members, had in Logan’s innate talent and the film in which they starred.

Sleepwalker is likely to nonplus as many as it delights such is its defiantly non-mainstream appeal. The playful technique, impressive ambition and aesthetic qualities of Sleepwalker, however, linger and grow in the mind far more than many of today’s feature-length, high-profile films.

Final Words: A real curio, Sleepwalker is a perfect addition to the BFI’s Flipside series. Post-modern in terms of genre conventions, smartly scripted and deftly performed, it’s one for those who like to seek out  less championed, left-field British films.

Extras: A host of features back up Sleepwalker; Rodney Giesler’s 45-minute film The Insomniac (1971), Logan’s own 10-minute short Stepping Out (1977) and 15-minute short Working Surface: A Short Study (With Actors) In ‘The Ways’ Of A Bourgeois Writer, and the 75-minute interview documentary O Lucky Man: Saxon Logan In Conversation (2013) more than provide value for both your money and time. An extensive illustrated booklet replete with film notes and essays comes as part of the package.

Rating: 4 / 5      

Sleepwalker (15) is available in Dual Format Edition (DVD & Blu-ray) from 23 September.