Friday, July 30, 2021

Sleepless (2001)

A prostitute is terrified when she discovers her latest client is seemingly a murderer. She flees with some evidence, but is soon tracked down and killed. The police find a link to the old 'dwarf murderer' of the 1980s, and call in retired Detective Ulisse Moretti. Also dragged into events is the young Giacomo, whose mother fell victim to this same murderer. The only problem is, he's dead. But if the dwarf murderer has been dead for 20 years, was he ever the killer? Who is committing these deeds now?...

Sleepless feels like a last gasp of quality filmmaking from Dario Argento. It's not up to the standard of his classics, but nor is it as abominably bad as his other recent films. It's not perfect, by any means, and is loaded with questionable moments, but it feels like the work of a master, even if it's coming from an off day.

The film begins with an arresting, if slightly overlong, stalk and kill sequence. It takes up the whole first 20 minutes! It sounds crazy, and isn't entirely successful, but it's also never boring. Beyond this the film settles into a more reasonable pacing, moving relatively quickly, and introducing its main characters well.

The whole catalyst for the first murder is pretty wacky. He wanted to sleep with a prostitute, but she kicks up a stink. So he pays her and bids her goodnight as he goes to bed, and instead of calmly leaving, she instead becomes hysterical just because he dared to snore, and runs out so fast she knocks over furniture and gets broken glass everywhere! Geez, lady, try not to trash his house! Sure, she uncovers a fierce collection of knives, but those could just be antiques!...They're not, he chops her to pieces with them, but still.

This leads to an extended chase through a train, leading to her demise. After her death you think this segment is finally going to end, but then her friend shows up, and it keeps going! She immediately notices something scary is going on, and finds the killer's file, then runs away from the station. They can call the police you know, and they will come! Then like an idiot she drops the file! Your friend died for that, you dumbass! What follows for her is clear to see...

The first act has a more industrial feel to it, with its midnight train stations and seedy prostitutes, then the rest of the film has more of a small-town Italiana vibe. The genre also switches to an extent, becoming more of a police procedural. But never losing base with its horror roots. The film is at times needlessly elaborate, but that's par for the course for a giallo. These killers seem to relish in difficult murders, so I am not complaining.

The story is fairly decent, with a few nice twists and turns. It gets a bit like a soap opera at times, but in a good way. The movie is a little overlong, but never overstays its welcome, and reaches a pretty good climax. Hilarious in all the wrong ways, but also engaging enough in its own right. The ending itself is pretty abrupt though, and has a weird stylistic choice for the credits.

Sleepless has plenty of Argento touches, from locations (like a rainy train station) to thematic, such as a voyeuristic killer, and a mystery involving nursery rhymes, and memory. Even though the gore effects themselves look more modern, the blood itself is just as bright red as it was in his glory days. The film stock looks like it could have been from the 80s too, which is a great look. At times the movie runs the risk of copying his past, like the missing car keys of Tenebrae, but it mostly manages to be its own thing.

The characters are fairly decent. Moretti is a good protagonist. Elderly for sure, and having a bit of trouble with his memory, but still maintaining a fierce sense of justice and fair play. He never lets his age and ill health get in his way, and he is determined to catch this killer and finally put an end to this old case.

Moretti often finds himself bearing the brunt of remarks of his age, sometimes jesting, other times mocking. The film has an undercurrent of old and new...but Moretti retired less than 17 years ago! He would've been a cop well into the 80s, if not the 90s! There's even a comment from an officer about how they didn't keep files back then. Back when, 1983? It's not the bloody stone age!

Giacomo is a likeable enough dude. Young and good looking, he's the audience surrogate, and becomes the main protagonist after a certain point. He has a decent relationship with his love interest, though I kept thinking "Steady on mate, you have a girlfriend, remember? The hot Chinese girl?".

I guessed who the killer was immediately, by the sound of his voice, which is like no-one else in the film (or any other for that matter). It also doesn't help that none of the other suspects are ever given potential motives, so there's never any reason to suspect them, beyond the red herrings. Aside from that though, the suspects are alright, and the clues leading to the true identity are handled well, even if I knew who he was the whole time.

The victims are pretty random, but we do get enough time with each of 'em to form at least a little of a connection. Nothing major, but at least they're not walk-on extras with no dialogue or anything. It is a shame the ballerina died, since she was cute!

They have weird reactions at times, like how petrified one girl is after a fuse box cuts out. I know something's wrong because there's a killer about, but she doesn't! Do people normally go into hysterics when a fuse box goes haywire?

I felt bad for poor Vincenzo. He was only an innocent Giallo novelist, not letting his disability control or ruin his life, and he has enough of a sense of honour to curse children who mocked him, while also rewarding those he liked by reading sneak previews of his latest books (until some pesky parents put a stop to it). Thankfully his memory is finally rehabilitated, even if it took a couple decades.

There are many moments that made me laugh, like the heroes genuinely thinking the killer called the police on himself, one character shooting himself in head twice, etc. Another weird touch is the indestructible mannequin. It's just a dummy, shooting it will knock it down, ya know.

Occasionally the movie even attempts to be funny on purpose. This is with mixed success, but I did at least like what it was going for, and it got more of a chuckle out of me than any other humour from Argento (it's really not his forte!).

The death scenes in Sleepless can get pretty gnarly, in some creative ways. Although at times they verge on the ridiculous and occasionally hilarious. One that towed the line on both was the head smashing, where a couple of bumps turns the woman's face to pudding. The decapitation is also hilarious, thanks to the poor stock sound effect, the ludicrous ease in which the killer does it (holds her by the throat, cuts twice with a knife, and there goes her noggin!), and the goofy fake head. The direction in the scene annoyed me too. The camera is pointing too far down! I get the point is we only see their feet, but we see so little it actually detracts from the scene. We can't even see where we're going

The effects are really good, for the most part. The blood has that classical feel, and the practical gore effects look as good as they do nauseating (to some, anyway). Where they faltered a little for me was in their lack of subtlety. We see everything, and while that does make the deaths more visceral, it also has less of an impact in a way. Being able to see everything isn't necessarily the best.

The acting is a real mixed bag. Max von Sydow delivers a lovely performance as Moretti. Stefano Dionisi is a good sidekick, and a few of the other cast members do well. Many others are less than stellar. Some of this might solely be the fault of the dubbing, but others not so much. Roberto Zibetti's performance was so bad and bizarre it had me pissing myself laughing, especially at the end.

The score is decent. Nothing like Goblin's past, but they do an alright job, and as far as 2000s era scores go it's not bland or terrible.

Overall, Sleepless represents Dario Argento's skills at both ends of the pool. It showcases a lot of what he did right, but also many of the laws inherent to his later movies. If you just want a casual Italian horror to watch, give this a go, and fans of Argento should check it out, but if you want to watch something great, there's much more you could watch instead...

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