State Like Sleep, 2018.
Written and directed by Meredith Danluck.
Starring Katherine Waterston, Michael Shannon, Luke Evans, Michiel Huisman, Mary Kay Place, Julie Khaner, Bo Martyn and George Tchortov.
A woman grapples with the consequences of her celebrity husband’s double life after he commits suicide.
From artist and documentarian Meredith Danluck comes State Like Sleep, a disjointed film that’s not sure what it wants to be. Is it a study on grief, a romantic drama, or a hard-boiled detective thriller? All of these identities are tried on – and neatly filmed – but not explored with any originality or depth.
The film boasts a high-calibre cast, led by Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Alien: Covenant) and featuring Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Nocturnal Animals) and Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, Fast & Furious 6) – but it’s quite hard to see why. It’s likely Danluck’s artistic reputation proceeded her (her shorts and documentaries have been shown at TIFF and SXSW, as well as her being selected for the 2013 Sundance Directors & Writers Labs). Any flare or excitement in approach is now, however, sadly missing.
State Like Sleep attempts to juggle the quite separate – and awkwardly separated – narrative strands of Katherine’s (Waterston) ill mother, difficult mother-in-law, estranged husband’s (Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman) death and secrets (which are never satisfactorily investigated), and a potential new lover in Michael Shannon’s Edward. It’s all just a bit vague and messy, and lacking in much justification. There are enough unanswered questions to suggest missing meat on the screenplay’s bones, as well as any kind of proper background.
Why is troubled Katherine so intriguing to both the enigmatic Edward and the sketchy club owner Emile (a sleazy Luke Evans)? What was there to her relationship with her husband Stefan, other than rolling around in bedsheets, laughing, and clashing over his lifestyle and addictions? It’s implied that actor Stefan dragged her down a bit, from her peak as a high-flying photographer, with his chaotic behaviour. But she also seems to be stumbling through life, a bit helpless and broken in her grief but trying to be tough – and that’s apparently irresistible to men.
The cast certainly do their best with the material they’ve been given. Luke Evans and his bleached barnet are good at being shady and rather slimy as Emile, despite the lack of clarity given for his character’s motivations or behaviour. Michael Shannon’s immense talent is wasted in the lazily written role of Edward, a non-specific businessman prone to moralising while looking to conduct an affair, and cringe-inducing banter (“Not so fast, I think you at least owe me a drink”). It is, however, a different sort of role for him, putting him in the frame as a leading man and object of desire – and I’m here for that.
Katherine Waterston also proves she’s eminently watchable, even when playing a bit of a wet flannel who’s pushing herself beyond her pedestrian limits. She also falls victim to the film’s clunky and clichéd dialogue, at one point exclaiming, “I have a fucking gun. You don’t move. That’s how this works!”
Perhaps the most disappointing part of State Like Sleep is its abrupt yet inconclusive finish. It’s likely Danluck was aiming for a realistically raw and – therefore – jumbled examination of grief and its consequences, but the film’s message is muted by its murky story and character development. That some random personal trainer points out a glaring omission from the police investigation, that changes the film’s goalposts quite late in the day, is annoying to say the least.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★