In My Sleep

In his feature debut In My Sleep, writer-director Allen Wolf delivers a solidly structured if never truly riveting thriller, in which levers of dramatic engagement are competently pulled for about half of the film's running time, at which point it starts to quickly unravel into a labyrinthine tangle of soap-y contrivance and improbably centralized conflict.

Philip Winchester (above right) stars as Marcus, a virile, single Los Angeleno who suffers from parasomnia, in which he wakes up in the morning completely oblivious to what he might have done the night before. He takes some meds for this, but the pills only seem to work sporadically. One morning, he wakes up covered in blood. Later that afternoon, things take a dramatic turn for the worse when Ann (Kelly Overton), the wife of his boss and longtime best friend Justin (Tim Draxl), turns up dead. Could Marcus really have murdered her, either in some sort of rage or jealous fit?

Making friends with his photographer neighbor Becky (Lacey Chabert, above left), Marcus starts to investigate his own actions, and have himself handcuffed to his bed at night, in order to restrict his roaming. Oh, and despite the fact that he's just lost a good friend, and has problems not concretely linked to this sudden trauma, Marcus also starts attending Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings, where he immediately befriends a mysterious woman, Gwen (Mad Men's Abigail Spencer), who offers to help test the aforementioned blood found on his clothing.

Obviously budgeted fairly tightly, In My Sleep has the beating heart of a slice of noir, but a production design and tone that never quite seems in lockstep with the material. Non-discrete lighting throughout renders the look of some already chintzy sets distressingly the same — whether it's an apartment, a doctor's office, or Marcus and Justin's day spa/massage parlor. And despite some macho stuff seeded throughout (Marcus does well with the ladies, which seems incidental to the story), there seems to be a gay-baiting subtext to the picture, given the almost comical amount of chiseled, B-cup shirtlessness Winchester displays, some jostling, grabby competition that he and Justin exhibit early on, and also the manner in which the movie embraces surface emotionalism as its stock-and-trade currency.

Weird as it may sound, the rhythms of In My Sleep most essentially recall the act of juggling, insofar as its execution doesn't offer any surprises, per se. (Either the items will fall to the ground, or they won't.) Wolf does a good job of introducing enough clubs to the game — spreading around the possibility of culpability — to keep things interesting, at least on a surface level. The main problems are that the film lacks a strong, separate investigative presence (apart from a police detective who pops up lamely and only occasionally); its hearty investment in Marcus' tortured adolescence — complete with flashbacks to his philandering father — never catches fire; and its PG-13 rating seems out of step with the more lurid potential of the story, so psychosexually overloaded is its narrative.

Some of Wolf's twists and inventions (like Marcus apparently giving himself a wrapped knife at his own surprise birthday party) spark the imagination, and induce a tingly sense of dread — is someone with a knowledge of Marcus' condition screwing with him, or has he hatched an more complex game of criminal cover-up deep within his subconscious? But Wolf unfortunately never takes these flashes of imagination to their most interesting points of logical conclusion. Ergo, when the end arrives, complete with desultory grappling, it induces yawns, not thrills. (Morning Star, PG-13, 105 minutes)


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