J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Tribeca ’18: You Shall Not Sleep

Method actors can be pretentious and annoying, but Alma Böhm’s method is downright dangerous. She has her actors stay up for days straight, in order to strip away their self-conscious selves and unleash their pure instinct—or something like that. Needless to say, this is a bad idea in a horror movie kind of way. Staging their performance in abandoned mental hospital further compounds the danger in Gustavo Hernández’s You Shall Not Sleep (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

Bianca has also been fascinated by Böhm’s work, so she can’t no when offered a part in her latest theatrical happening, even though she is well aware of the infamous ending to her last attempt at sleep-deprivation theater (apparently, 108 hours is a significant red line for participants). However, she is rather put out to learn she still has to compete for the role, against her pretty but less talented friend Dora.

The good news is she is much more susceptible to Böhm’s method than Dora. That is also the bad news. Before long, Bianca is seeing shadowy figures out of the corner of her eye and having flashbacks from the POV of her character, a wronged patient who very nearly killed her baby when she set the hospital on fire.

Pretty soon, we are just as lost as Bianca in the various temporal shift and reality warps. Yet, there always seems to be a method to Hernández’s madness, so to speak. Frankly, YSNS is probably a horror movie by default (it would certainly be terrifying to live through equivalent experiences), but it has nearly as much in common with mind-benders like Inception. Still, it is hard to argue with the implication of a haunted and crumbling lunatic asylum.

The Uruguayan Hernández shows a masterful control of atmosphere, tension, and general mise-en-scene throughout it all. This is definitely a moody movie. He also gets some great performances from his cast, particularly Spanish actress Belén Rueda, who goes from being the woman-in-jeopardy in Julia’s Eyes, to being the one putting women in jeopardy, as Böhm. She is chillingly driven, sharing a kinship with Peter O’Toole in The Stunt Man. It is also scary to see how worn-down and hollowed-out Eva De Dominici gets as the tragically sensitive Bianca, while Susana Hornos really sneaks up on viewers as the dramatically less intuitive Dora.

You have to give Hernández credit for making a haunted asylum film that can never be mistaken for a clone of Grave Encounters or Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum. Indeed, there is quite a bit of fresh and originally creepy stuff to be found here. Highly recommended for unpedantic genre fans, You Shall Not Sleep screens again tonight (4/20), tomorrow night (4/21) and next Saturday (4/28), as part of this year’s Tribeca.

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