Whether it’s losing weight, learning a profession or doing whatever Shia LaBeouf does, actors are legendary for their ability to disappear into a role. “You Shall Not Sleep,” the latest from Spanish director Gustavo Hernández, takes a terrifying look at a new form of method acting. Bianca (Eva De Dominici) is lured into an experimental acting group led by her hero, Alma Böhm (Belén Rueda), who immerses actors in roles through sleep deprivation. By breaking her subjects mentally, Böhm hopes to bring out the character in its truest form, but what she taps into is something deeper and far more sinister.
“You Shall Not Sleep” had its international premiere this week at The Tribeca Film Festival and was shown under the Midnight category of films. Midnight showings are reserved for the horror or comedy films that are enjoyed best with a lively audience.
The film begins in a promising place, with its original idea and insane asylum setting, but quickly falls apart. The film is built upon the connection between the real world and its sleep deprived alternative, but the interplay between these worlds is not clear. It was very hard to follow how the sleep deprivation impacted reality, and this weakened the eventual climax of the film.
Although the film’s story may not have been fully realized, Rueda is extremely effective in her role as a director obsessed with results. Her common refrain, “without craziness there is no creation,” and her trademark spool of yarn create a character that is hellbent on controlling the psyches of her actors. Rueda totally carries scenes with her costars. Her mix of madness and dedication is a needed hit of personality next to the lifeless De Dominici. Rueda’s effectiveness is not a surprise after her work in 2007’s “The Orphanage,” another Spanish psychological thriller, as these films seem to be her comfort zone.
The largest deficiency with “You Shall Not Sleep” is its lack of scares and “The Orphanage” offers a good lens to understand why Hernandez’ film does not work. While both films employ jump scares, “The Orphanage” built its scares on a repeated image of a boy with a sack on his head that carried narrative resonance by the middle of the film.
“You Shall Not Sleep,” however, scares the audience repeatedly with a variety of side characters whose identities are convoluted, making the scares feel weak and unearned. If the audience does not recognize the person popping out of the dark, it simply registers the person as a scary face rather than something truly disturbing.
While most scares fell flat, the one scene that did get a large reaction out of the audience was the film’s opener. One phone was dropped to the floor and another person audibly gasped but the next two hours of scares were thoroughly disappointing.
“You Shall Not Sleep” is a horror film that sets its sights in the right direction but gets lost along the way. The concept of sleep deprivation putting actors into a demon-filled alternate universe is fun but, like Böhm’s spool of yarn, quickly unravels. The scares also suffer from this lack of coherent storytelling. The film is an unfortunate misfire that had the potential for so much more.
Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.