Nightmare and trauma. Fear and repression. Guilt and atonement. Weaving together the emotional violence of horror with the cryptic motifs of German folk and fairy tales, Arrow Video is proud to present Sleep, the debut feature from a major new talent in world cinema. Tormented by recurring nightmares of a place she has never been, Marlene (Sandra Hüller, Requiem) cannot help but investigate when she discovers the place is real. Once there, she suffers a breakdown and is admitted to a psychiatric ward. Determined to discover what happened to her, Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof), her daughter, follows and finds herself in Stainbach, an idyllic village with a dark history. What is it that so tormented her mother, and the people of Stainbach? What is the source of the nightmares she suffers? And who is the mysterious Trude that lives in the forest? Richly conceived and confidently told, director Michael Venus draws influence from Mario Bava, David Lynch, Franz Kafka and the Brothers Grimm, but his voice is uniquely his own. As invested in substance and story as he is in style, Venus claws his way down to the roots of what haunts a people, a community, a nation and comes up screaming. “Will definitely keep you up at night” – Joey Keough, Wicked Horror
For thoughts on Sleep, please check out our discussion on The Video Attic here.
Sleep debuts on Blu-Ray with a 1080p presentation in 2.39:1 from a high definition master that is as stunning as any modern movie should be. For a story dealing with darkness and nightmare which conjures suspense, it is important to have deep black levels, and this release does not disappoint. Objects hold up very well in the shadows and retain their depth in the most bleak circumstances. The visual effects are really well executed with every element blending seamlessly. The bright whites of the daytime sequences never get close to blooming as they provide a nice stability throughout. It is quite impressive how sleek the film is with very nuanced textures and fine detail throughout. The project has a very bold color palette that is a feast for the eyes. There are no apparent digital issues with this one. This is an impeccable disc that showcases the work perfectly.
The Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in the original German with optional English subtitles that handles everything that is thrown at it with expert precision. The dialogue primarily stays in front center channels and is reproduced clearly. The track does a good job of making sure neither sound effects nor the music ever overpowers any dialogue. The film is primarily dialogue driven, but there are some supremely creepy atmospheric effects and an immersive score that will give your speakers something substantial to work with. There is some nice ambient activity in the rear channels, especially during scenes taking place outdoors. There are sporadic jolts of horror, such as a particularly violent attack, that inject some heft to the low end that is appreciated in a film such as this one. This track has a substantial dynamic range that should satisfy even the most discerning audiophiles.
The first-pressing of the Arrow Video Blu-Ray of Sleep includes a booklet featuring the essay “The Interpretations of Screams: Freud, The Unconscious, and The Horror Hotel in Sleep” by author and professor Alison Peirse. This essay provides a great analysis of the story and insight into the themes of the film. The booklet also includes an interview with Director Michael Venus conducted by Neil Snowdon. Finally, for the booklet, there is the tale “Frau Trude” by The Brothers Grimm included. There is also a double-sided folded mini-poster reflecting the film’s cover art and reversible artwork included. The on-disc special features are as follows:
- Audio Commentary: Film Critic and Historian Kim Newman & Author Sean Hogan deliver an informative commentary track that is quite unlike their typical tracks due to their normal focus on covering older films. Nevertheless, the pair are great at making historical connections to the material, covering influences, discussing the talent involved and more.
- A Strange Dark Magic: A 17-minute visual essay in which film scholar Alexandra Heller-Nicholas delves deep into the place of ritual, dark magic, masks, sins of the past, escaping reality, individualism and more within the context of the film. This piece really puts certain sequences into greater context where you understand the intentions on a deeper level.
- Sleepwalking Through National Trauma: A 22-minute visual essay in which film critic Anton Bitel explores the “topsy-turvy” world of Sleep, the inversion of expected norms, the cultural unconscious, thematic links to The Shining, the return of the repressed and more. Much like the previous piece, this is a fascinating supplement to the film.
- Dream & Folktale In Sleep: An 11-minute piece in which anthropologist, dream researcher, and filmmaker Louise S. Milne discusses dreams in art, the evolving nature of folktales, weaving in “psychologized” folk tales into horror, the metaphors within Sleep, how dreams are portrayed in the film and more.
- This Is No Dream: A two-minute introduction to the release from director Michael Venus and star Gro Swantje Kohlhof which is more creative than the typical intro.
- Talking In Their Sleep: A 26-minute virtual conversation between director Michael Venus and star Gro Swantje Kohlhof which approximates a Q&A as filmed for the 2020 Tohorror Fantastic Film Festival. In this piece they discuss the origins of the project, the larger themes at play, the horror of the past, what drew Kohlhof to the script, the process of making the film and more.
- A Dream We Can Dream Together: A 16-minute collection of creative virtual introductions to various film festivals during the COVID-19 pandemic featuring the cast and crew. While the pandemic may have ruined a lot, this lot made the best of a bad situation.
- Making Dreams Come True: A three-minute glimpse behind the scenes of the production of Sleep including the application of makeup, working with the boar and more.
- Deleted Scenes: Four scenes totaling five minutes of unused material is provided here including Mona being invited to a party, Otto tussling with a raccoon, a conquering vision for Wolfram and more. There are timestamps included in the description for where these scenes would have been included which is a really nice touch.
- Marlene’s Sketches: A collection of sketches created for the film are provided here with a written introduction from Venus.
- Trailer: The minute-and-a-half long trailer is provided here.
- Image Galleries: There are galleries provided for Promotional Stills and Posters and Behind The Scenes photos.
Sleep is an incredibly impressive entry into the folk horror genre. From the very beginning, the movie seeks to unnerve you and maintain the discomfort through carefully layered plotting. The performances are strong across the entire ensemble, but it is the assured direction from Michael Venus that elevates this story to something so magical. The mixture of real-world horror with the fantastical is a path that always rewards. Arrow Video has released a Blu-Ray featuring a stunning A/V presentation and a 5-star array of special features. If you are interested in folk horror even in the slightest, do not skip this one. Highly Recommended
Sleep is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.