Written and directed by Luke De Brún, plagued with a debilitating sleeping disorder, Ben’s existence is a lonely one. He spends his nights wandering the streets of modern suburbia, hoping to break the chain of his monotony. Starring: Liam Gaffney and Chloe-Louise Scanlan.
One of the really strong elements of Sleep is apparent right from the start, its use of lighting. Luke De Brún creates a strong focus and it helps to build the atmosphere of isolation and a separation from society. Then as it moves forward, along with its use of sound, it brings through the exhaustion, dulling of the senses and zombie-like existence that goes along with insomnia. On top of which there’s a superbly done score which works perfectly to highlight the changing emotions of the film, particularly in its lighter moments. There’s a clever simplicity to its style, closing off most of the world, sticking to its lead, using minimal but effective locations and building layers through the different elements rather than relying on dialogue and sets.
Liam Gaffney then brings a lot of personality to our sleepless protagonist Ben. Since there isn’t a big reliance on dialogue, Gaffney mostly brings his character to life through facial cues and body language and he does it extremely well. There’s a great progression to the character, from moments of being ready to give up to moments of hope. He also doesn’t get stuck on the disorder part of his character, it sets up the rest of the story but time isn’t wasted wading into what lurks for him in slumber. Meaning that you get to focus on how he deals with the insomnia and what it does to his perspective of life. It’s always great to see an actor translate a character so well within fairly restrictive lines, creating a memorable performance without ever requiring a huge physicality or eloquence.
Keeping the focus on the more emotional, mental elements to this story means that it can use its time well. It also keeps a surprising lightness to it, without getting its feet caught in the more nightmarish elements to Ben’s condition, it holds onto a relatable and sympathetic feel. The atmosphere is one of an everyday struggle, not just related to sleep, but of the mundane drudgery and loneliness that can bring down anyone from time to time. As well as the little rays of light that can make all the difference and the knock down when they don’t work out.
Sleep feels keenly aware of what to focus on and how to do it, creating a story that’s simple yet filled with emotion and is highly relatable. It’s shot with a great eye for lighting and detail, to let the film be so strongly following its lead character and his mental journey. Liam Gaffney fills that character with an unexpected amount of personality despite saying barely anything. It’s well shot, scored, acted and written, giving viewers a sympathetic experience to how life can be a struggle, whether it be through lack or sleep or otherwise.