Fantasia Film Festival 2020 Screening – Generational trauma is the fine, silken thread that binds the web of SLEEP. Marlene (Sandra Huller) is riddled with horrific nightmares that leave her gasping for air. When she awakes she fills endless journals with notes and drawings with the contents of her dreams. Her daughter, Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) is convinced it’s due to her sleep schedule and urges her to seek psychological help. Rather than taking the appointment Mona makes for her, Marlene goes directly to the hotel from her dreams – the Sonnenhugel Hotel.

Mona soon receives a life-altering call – Marlene is in hospital, completely catatonic, having been found by the staff of the Sonnenhugel. Mona vows to get to the bottom of this, and save her mother, and checks into the hotel herself. She meets Otto (August Schmolzer) and his wife, Lore (Marion Kracht). It seems Mona is the sole inhabitant of the hotel, as it’s off season, and Otto and Lore are doing work on refurbishing the hotel. The isolation gives Mona time to pore over her mother’s notes and drawings, and try to put the pieces together. Soon Mona realizes their bond may be even stronger than she imagined, as she has flashes of her mother’s dreams and visions. Mona struggles with her grip on reality as she learns more about Otto, his pursuits for purifying the “fatherland”, and how closely woven their stories actually are.

SLEEP takes its cues from the likes of David Lynch – blurring reality and fantasy so often that it’s hard to know where you are at any given moment. Truly dizzying, SLEEP is not a movie you can look away from or get distracted during. No bathroom breaks allowed. SLEEP requires you to be all in – something that I find easy to do with foreign films as I have to follow along with subtitles. In fact, while I know not everyone is a fan of subtitles, I would recommend watching with them either way, even if you speak German, or even if the film was somehow in English. This is how intricate the story is, and how closely you have to pay attention.

In the midst of political propaganda, commentary on modern Nazism, and deep generational trauma, SLEEP is profoundly feminist. A majority female cast is utilized to their strengths, and every female character is shown to overcome not just the literal “bad guys”, but their own psychological issues, family trauma, economic status/class, and more. Ultimately, women are the answer, and women have the power.

Gro Swantje Kohlhof gives a remarkably subtle and refined performance as Mona. Without her immense power, told through the lens of psychic dissonance and confusion, the superfine threads that keep this story together would tangle up, or fall to pieces. Without bravado, without trickery, and with incredible restraint and control, she is empathetic and sympathetic. Surrounded by a remarkable cast, including a stand out Martina Shöne-Radunski as Franzi, a powerfully radical member of hotel staff, there is, quite simply, strength in the ensemble cast of SLEEP. 

SLEEP, and director Michael Venus, attempts to satisfy expectations of the genre- jump-cut reveals of horrific accidents that occurred within the hotel, sudden realizations that what seems real isn’t, and just enough gore to keep the less intellectual viewer involved. Mona’s visions are reminiscent of something from The Shining – an empty hotel, surely, where all she can see is the bloody aftermath of suicides and deaths within its halls.

If you blink, you’ll miss the genius that is SLEEP. Keep those eyes open wide, and don’t drift off – you may be surprised what’s waiting for you on the other side.

10/10 stars


Runtime: 1 hr 42Mins.
Directed By:
Michael Venus
Written By:
Thomas Friedrich, Michael Venus

About the Author: Miranda Riddle

Makeup Artist, Monster Maker, Educator, Producer, Haunt-lover, and all around Halloween freak. When Miranda isn't watching horror films, she's making them happen. When she's not doing either of those things, she's probably dreaming about them. Or baking cookies.
By Published On: August 19, 2020Categories: Movies, ReviewsComments Off on SLEEP blurs the lines of consciousness – FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALTags: , , , , , , ,