Film Review: Sleeper’s Wake

A bleak South African thriller, Sleeper’s Wake is slow to get going. It does, however, keep audiences guessing.

Waking up in hospital with a large scar on his head and little recollection, John Wraith has to come to terms with a tragedy. He goes to stay in a remote coastal village to recuperate and write. His quiet stay is interrupted when he becomes embroiled in the fortunes of his neighbours…

The beginning of Barry Berk’s debut feature does not really grab the viewer’s attention. It is a slow start, and may put some viewers off. Sleeper’s Wake picks up once John travels to the remote Nature’s Cove. The film mixes a thriller with slight elements of horror. The isolation of the location generates a sense of unease that is quite effective.

The most positive attribute of Sleeper’s Wake is that it is difficult to tell exactly where the film is going. This mystery retains the audience’s attention. A number of red herrings are included to throw viewers off the scent. Very few are likely to predict the climax of the film. It is surprising, with very little indication earlier on in the film of how the story will ultimately conclude.

Performances in Sleeper’s Wake are fine. Lionel Newton is believable as John Wraith, while Deon Lotz has a suitably ambiguous quality as Roelf Venter. The film employs its location and lighting effectively to emphasise the isolation, particularly in the night scenes.

Sleeper’s Wake is a imperfect debut, but one that shows some promise. The climax is rather memorable.

Sleeper’s Wake is being screened at the London Film Festival in October 2012.