Edgar Allan Poe in his poem “Dream within a Dream” asks “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”. This is a nice summation of Rebecca Daly’s first feature-length film, The Other Side of Sleep, in which a sleep walking women tries to unravel the reason for her awakening beside a dead body in the woods.
The women in question is Arlene (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), a factory worker in a small rural Irish town. She lives alone and is prone to sleepwalking with no recollection of her previous night’s activities. She becomes consumed by the death of a local girl, trying to figure out what happened and if she had any role in her demise. Tiny pieces of the puzzle are revealed as the film progresses, enticing us in to the goings on of this small rural town. However they unravel a bit too slowly, and ultimately leave you wondering if there was ever a story there to begin with.
The film was inspired by the discovery of a dead girl wrapped in a duvet in a car park in Northern Ireland. The film does not linger on the death or police investigations but more so focuses on how people and a community deal with such an horrific crime. Daly captures the small minded gossip of people from rural areas where whispers and knowing looks are the authorities of the day. The film is beautifully shot giving a haunting feeling throughout especially with the opening scenes in the forest. It is reminiscent of Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene in its deception of nature with long dialogue free-scenes. I say dialogue-free as opposed to silent as sound is a huge factor in the film. From the creaking woods, incessant buzzing of factory machinery to the screams of a dying calf, sound is one of the stars intensifying and heightening every scene.
The acting is good with Campbell-Hughes expertly playing a scared slightly unhinged women desperately trying to find some answers that will hopefully put the ghosts of her past to rest. Olwen Fouere also puts in a great performance as the mother of Killen (Sam Keeley) who most of the town suspects of carrying out the deed. Mention must also be given to Vicky Joyce who plays the younger sister of the murdered girl and develops a friendship with Arlene as she tries to comes to terms with the loss.
With all these good individual elements I still felt disappointed by the film. The story isn’t really there and means there is no strong structure for the film to be built on. Certain scenes are included to shock or cause you to jump but, as the film is more of an examination of loss than a horror, these really jar and feel unnecessary. A lot is left unexplained and I feel this is not down to a “make up your own mind” scenario, or “the world doesn’t have any answers” but more that they were unable to explain or conclude elements of the film. As the film explores sleepwalking , insomnia and the notion of waking dreams there are fantastical elements at play, but with such a real-life setting, some moments just seem too far-fetched and unbelievable falling into the trappings of an indie art house film.
Without question a beautifully shot and well acted piece of film but falling slightly short in its execution.
Ireland / Directed By: Rebecca Daly / Written By: Glenn Montgomery, Rebecca Daly / Starring: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Olwen Fouere, Sam Keeley / 93min / Thriller / Release: 15 March 2012 (Irl)