J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty: Briar Rose with Demons

It is time to put the grim back in Grimm’s. This is not a teen-angst television fairy tale. The Briar Rose fable of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm has been transformed into a contemporary horror film—finally. She is still waiting to be kissed, but there are some pretty sinister creatures guarding her in Pearry Reginald Teo’s The Curse of Sleeping Beauty (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Thomas Kaiser never knew he had an uncle, but the reclusive old man just bequeathed him the family mansion. Unfortunately, the ramshackle haunted house makes Grey Gardens look like Falling Water. It is probably no joke about it being haunted. People seem to disappear there, like Linda’s brother. Ever since, she has been obsessed with the property and its murky history. Frankly, she seems to know more than he does when he first arrives. However, he quickly realizes the house is related to his reoccurring dreams of the princess in a magically-induced coma.

The good news is Briar Rose must be close, because Kaiser can finally talk to her in their shared dreams. The bad news is Kaiser’s spirit has been supernaturally bound to the property he was hoping to flip. Prolonged time away from Casa Kaiser leaves him drained and disoriented, whereas his cursed bloodline offers some limited protection from the bad stuff lurking about. He will need all the help he can get when he ventures into the bowels of the house with Linda and her slightly eccentric Van Helsing-esque pal Richard.

Apparently, Kaiser lives in a world where Perrault, the Grimms, and Giambattista Basile never lived, because the name Briar Rose does not mean anything to anybody. However, old Richard is highly conversant in ancient demons and djinns, which comes in handy. Regardless, Teo and co-screenwriter Josh Nadler cleverly incorporate and subvert elements of the classic fairy tale in their adaptation of Everette Hartsoe’s graphic novel. They make intriguing use of ancient lore and modern technology (although not to the extent of the already under-rated The Offering).

India Eisley is the perfect choice for Briar Rose, being lovely and eerily young looking, but “distant,” like a porcelain doll. Ethan Peck (grandson of Gregory) is surprisingly convincing and rather intense as the anti-social and paranormally-afflicted Kaiser. Oscar-nominated character actor Bruce Davison (Longtime Companion) has fun with Richard’s flaky persona, constantly giving the film an energy boost. Restoration’s Zack Ward only has two brief scenes, but he still delivers some of the film’s best lines. Altogether, it is a pretty strong ensemble, with True Blood’s Natalie Hall gamely soldiering through the standard genre stuff her Linda is stuck with.

Curse is quite an impressive genre production, especially with respects to the infernal set pieces created by production designer Alessandro Marvelli, art designer Chris Scheid, and their teams. Likewise, the Briar Rose costume fits the film’s tone perfectly. It is a smart, ambitious indie dark fantasy/horror film worth your consideration. Recommended for those who did not think Tale of Tales was sufficiently macabre, The Curse of Sleeping Beauty opens this Friday (5/13) in Los Angeles, at the Arena Cinema.

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