Review: The Sleep Experiment

Written and directed by John Farrelly, two detectives begin an investigation into a disastrous secret military experiment where five prisoners were kept awake for thirty days in a sealed gas chamber. Starring: Rob James Capel, Will Murphy, Tom Kerrisk, Barry John Kinsella and Will Murphy.

It’s horrific to imagine the sorts of traumatic experiments governments and scientists got away with in a time with so much less transparency and culpability, so it’s not surprising that The Sleep Experiment was inspired by real events. The concept is a good one but it’s massively undercut by the style of the film. Where we should be getting a growingly disturbing atmosphere, it all feels very false and synthetic. It’s a harsh, twisted story but that isn’t translating into the aesthetic or tone, there’s a stage-like presence to it, it’s too cleanly put together.

That lack of individual style fights against the intrigue of its story, making it work too hard when it should speak for itself. You don’t have to be an expert to know what lack of sleep does to the psyche so that alone gives the film oodles of complicated, violent and hysterical potential. In some ways it does capitalise on that but it’s also being used to set up a secondary story, exploring those being investigated for the experiment. That split means neither really get the space that they need to make for a satisfying punch, instead leaving it feeling far too open, needing to follow the road further.

Its insincere quality unfortunately is only further fed by its actors, in particular Tom Kerrisk’s overly stereotypical English accent. He brings a cliched presence, not able to dive into the complexities of the character, which negatively impacts the progression of the story. The performances in general feel too by the book, they’re ticking the boxes but not giving anything unique or gripping. What they are bringing to the table makes this story all the more obvious, so the mysterious or complex potential goes mostly unanswered.

The Sleep Experiment tries to explore cruelty and crime but can’t capitalise on the mayhem and chaos that naturally arise. It misses out on a real or sincere note, everything feels overly composed and structured, which undermines the tone and atmosphere needed to drive home this story. It’s the same case for most of the cast and it sadly just falls into too many stereotypes for this to work. It’s disappointing as there’s a decent crime story at its foundation, with a potentially complex antagonist but neither are done justice.

Verdict: ✯✯ | 4/10

Available on Digital & VOD November 1

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