“Sleep”: conjugality told like a horror film

Alfred Hitchcock said he shot love scenes like murder scenes, and vice versa. In Sleep , Grand Prize winner at the Gérardmer International Fantastic Film Festival in January, Jason Yu films conjugality like a horror film or, conversely, the horror lurking in the folds and depths of married life.

The good idea of this first feature film, sponsored by Bong Joon-ho ( Parasite , 2019) whose director was the assistant on Okja (2017), is that fear rushes in through sleep, this period of dead time where we no longer possess ourselves and during which the social psyche gains access to its reverse side.

A young model couple on the path to success – she, a business executive (Jung Yu-mi), he, a budding actor (Lee Sun-kyun, whose suicide, on December 27, 2023, caused controversy in Korea) – is preparing to welcome a first child in the apartment where the man and woman meet after long days of work. At the front of their cozy nest is a positive mantra: “Together, we can overcome anything. » However, for some time now, Monsieur has been suffering from increasingly violent sleepwalking attacks, to the point that he even almost throws himself out of the window. His wife tries to help him by securing the environment, but nothing helps. The anxiety escalates when the baby arrives in this minefield, and the husband’s nocturnal aggression is directed at him. The young wife, as if under siege at home, loses sleep, and soon her compass.

Paranoid mode

The horrific mechanics are activated here within the restricted perimeter of the apartment, the standardized seat of married life converted into a devouring cocoon, which the film only leaves during brief breaks, only to return immediately. The staging focuses, for the most part, on this domestic space filmed from all angles, watching for its blind corners, its false familiarity, pursuing traces of disorder and invasive presences, finally describing its progressive sealing (bars placed on the windows to the walls lined with votive leaves).

Sleep thus signals this narrow horizon of the couple focused on their own interior, and for whom any reminder of the outside – starting with the inconvenient neighborhood, because they complain about the noises – is experienced in a paranoid mode. In the cyclical return of the nights, the anxiety progresses in stages. The irrational invites itself halfway through with a fantastic track, indicating that the sleeper could well be possessed by the ghost of a dead neighbor.

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