At Least Eli Roth Can Stage a Set-Piece: Our Review of ‘Sleepless Beauty’

At Least Eli Roth Can Stage a Set-Piece: Our Review of ‘Sleepless Beauty’

Much maligned but now viewed via a cult resurgence, the luckiest break the torture porn genre ever got was the fact that the dark web hadn’t yet reached its peak cultural popularity. Imagine for a second that Saw VI was actually about livestreaming nightmarish torture and not a dopey, ham-fisted attempt at an earnest health-care allegory, and you can probably discern why this would not particularly be a successful combination. I might be biased—my opinion is that situating your film around the dark web in any capacity is the pinnacle of Mount Uncool—but I have a hard time imaging that there’s an audience out there clamoring for a badly dubbed psychedelic Martyrs that’s live on Periscope.

Moreover, we’re probably very fortunate that, save Sylvain White’s Slenderman, few films seem to be based off of creepy pastas. Unfortunately, Pavel Khavleev’s Sleepless Beauty seems to break that streak. The vibe I get here is that Khvaleev’s film seems heavily inspired by the classic “Russian Sleep Experiment,” creepy pasta. The parallels are very similar: political prisoners captured by a deep state entity for psychological experiments centered around psycho-chemically induced insomnia, which have grisly results. The biggest difference is that the creepy pasta has a utility as a piece consumed by impressionable insomniac teenagers, and Sleepless Beauty has minimal value in any context.

Let me be blunt: this is a repugnant film that feels akin to all of the worst charges people lobbed at the aforementioned torture porn genre during its heyday. At least Hostel II could be seen as an allegory for the angst of a late-capitalist America. What is this about? The film may want the deep state that kidnaps a young woman named Mila (Polina Davydova) and attempts to brutally thought reform her into a mindless killer to be something truly sinister, but in actuality, it’s meaningless. Without spoiling the film’s ending, it’s difficult to understand why any of this is happening, at least thematically.

The lack of a purpose renders Sleepless Beauty into being a painful slog of misogyny. There’s a scene in this film where Mila is forced to dig through a bucket of a sludgy, blood-like substance to search for a toy doll, while an intercom taunts her for having had an abortion in the past. This is never really alluded to again. It’s simply a mean-spirited scene, culled by an “expert” sense of pure nastiness. This scene is a microcosm for the whole film: mean, tedious, and superfluous.

Khvaleev’s film is so backwards, it’s almost impressive. I don’t know whose decision it was to dub this film, but the ADR quality here is High School student short quality at best, but it is very clearly a poor decision. The experience is not all that dissimilar from watching the notoriously bad dubbing of second-tier Italian Giallo’s from the 1970s. The chief difference is that something like The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is impressionistically beautiful looking, and this is aimlessly dull. Nothing about this, right down to the partially scratched color grade, is the least bit interesting looking. This includes the film’s awkward psychedelic stop motion dream sequences, which feel frustratingly tacked on.

To summarize, Sleepless Beauty is a film with an unconvincing plot that feels tacked on to weak torture porn visuals. This is a tremendous waste of time. If you’re interested in some good old-fashioned torture porn, maybe just throw on your Blu-ray of Hostel II? At least Eli Roth can stage a set-piece.

This post was written by
Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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