In Their Sleep (French: Dans ton sommeil), 2010.
Written and Directed by Caroline du Potet and Éric du Potet.
Starring Anne Parillaud, Arthur Dupont and Thierry Frémont.
Late at night Sarah (Anne Parillaud) is driving home from work when a young man runs in front of her car. The panicked boy says he caught a burglar in his house, saw his face and now the burglar is trying to kill him. But is he telling the truth?
In Their Sleep begins with an ominous shot of a pale body partly hidden in grass, unexplained until the final scenes, but it sets the tone of the film right from the start. It’s a minimalist, lean feature, the compact storytelling utilised perfectly in the setup, where we meet Sarah, whose teenage son dies after jumping out his bedroom window to go out after Sarah and her husband insist he stays in and studies. We quickly fast forward to a year later, with Sarah looking haggard and exhausted, as she is reprimanded by the head nurse at the hospital she works. A quick, simple setup – son dies, mother unable to deal with grief, husband is absent (presumably he’s left her), mother throws herself into work to avoid dealing with death of son. It’s truly heartbreaking though, because of how natural and brilliant an actress Anne Parillaud is, playing Sarah as a broken, hollow shell of a woman with nothing but her work to hold on to.
So when Arthur (Arthur Dupont) jumps in front of her car, pale with fright, babbling about a burglar trying to kill him, the motherly instinct kicks in and it’s believably handled. She takes him back to her home, bandages his arm and gives him one of her sons old jumpers to wear, a moment of sorrow and recognition flashing across her face as she sees her son in the face of this stranger.
The efficient approach to storytelling serves the film well – the quick setup, Arthur’s backstory (including the reveal that he is not what he seems) and the return to the present scenes after Arthur’s backstory, the audience fresh with new knowledge. The efficiency approach is present elsewhere as well – the music is minimalist in every sense of the word, quiet, looming but simplistic strings, haunting in their elegant sparseness, with a theremin wavering over scenes, providing an off-kilter strangeness that makes the film feel slightly unreal.
Also very minimalist is the gore and violent scenes, particularly the multiple throat slittings, which mostly take place in silence on sleeping victims. Unlike American horror, theres no leap of strings on the soundtrack, nor the fetishistic attention to detail we’ve come to expect from our horror these days thanks to the recent wave of torture porn. The violence is presented naturally and realistically, which works well in the context of the film.
However later on, once we’ve learned the truth about Arthur, the film starts to wear out it’s welcome a little. Scenes are retrod to emphasise certain points that we could have easily worked out ourselves, and Arthur’s reveal being so early in the film finds In Their Sleep struggling to maintain the tension it’s built up. By the time we reach the inevitable conclusion, second guessed somewhere around the half-way point of the film, it’s rather underwhelming.
Having said that, excellent performances from the leads and a taut, lean approach to film-making render In Their Sleep an enjoyable experience, providing you don’t try to second guess it too much. As a thriller, it’s more than adequate.
In Their Sleep is released on DVD on February 14th.