Grace and David travel to the country to visit their friends, brother and sister Marianne and Alex. They have known each other for a while and are staying over at one of the siblings’ house. Over the dinner, the conversation turns political. The social attitudes and issues of the day are raised, occasionally resulting in offensive and nasty jokes (a particularly cruel and memorable one involves a play on the word ‘gay’, suggesting it stands for ‘Got AIDS yet?’).
The year is 1984 and this film in one way serves as a reminder that we are now nearly 30 years on from this period of ignorance and prejudice. Even so, not all the people sitting round the table feel comfortable with such homophobia and as the conversation leads onto various other subjects the atmosphere grows increasingly forced and strange.
When the four friends retreat to the house for the night things take a turn for the terrifying. I’m not going to give away what happens, but let’s just say that director Saxon Logan performs an expert shift in genre over half way through the film.
Though some have considered this work a horror movie, it is probably best approached as a socially astute drama – one which requires a strong stomach for the macabre final act. Logan’s careful directing intelligently picks apart the many presumptions and beliefs of the period without ever condoning them. The horror aspect, though relatively brief, is effective and chilling and ends with a bloody conclusion that won’t send you to bed thinking happy thoughts.
This release is part of the British Film Institute’s Flipside strand – a collection of films that chart, according to the BFI, the ‘untold history of British film’. As with many of their titles, this edition presents the film in the best possible way, sourcing a high definition transfer from the film elements available. The HD presentations in this release were actually courtesy of Drive director Nicholas Winding Refn, who is something of a fan of Saxon Logan and an outspoken supporter of the BFI’s Flipside range. The Blu-ray disc boasts a picture quality that may upset some if they expect a crystal clear image. It is far from spotless, and very fuzzy at times, though this is obviously due to the condition of the 35mm print available. The booklet supplied with the release includes accompanying essays and explains the work that has gone into the transfer of the main film, as well as the short-films that are provided as bonus material.
Overall, this is another superb release from the BFI. Together with Arrow Video and Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema brand, they are leading the way in bringing forgotten or lost treasures back into the public light. Their release of Sleepwalker is typically excellent.
Film: ★★★★☆ Disc: ★★★★☆
Sleepwalker (1984), directed by Saxon Logan, is released on Duel Format Blu-ray and DVD by the BFI on 23 September, Certificate 15.