The horror movie industry has grown somewhat stagnant in recent years, it has to be confessed. Many of the more interesting premises by which to scare the wits out of your audience have been exhausted to the point of cliche or parody. However, low budget French horror/thriller In Their Sleep (2010) is a good example of a more innovative and original approach to the horror genre.
The collaborative writing and directorial efforts of brother and sister film making team Eric and Caroline Du Potet have created one of the more interesting titles to emerge from the french horror market following the success of contemporaries such as Alexandre Aja.
In Their Sleep tells the story of Sarah (Anne Parillaud), a grief-stricken nurse struggling to come to terms with a recent loss. Working long hours at the hospital, she finds herself thrown into a deadly game of cat and mouse after a road accident that leaves her and a mysterious young man named Arthur (Arthur Dupont) on the run from an unknown assailant.
Constantly blurring the lines between antagonists and protagonists, this skillful psychological horror eschews stylised slasher violence in favour of a more visceral portrayal of reality. While your typical knife-wielding psycho might slide the biggest and most threatening carving knife the from the block, our killer is more practical, favouring less cinematic weapons and opting for what a real murderer would choose. The film also does away with the typical omni-malevolent, seemingly motiveless psycho that dispatches teenage cannon fodder en mass in endlessly creative and comedic ways, In Their Sleep gets back to basics: characters are well fleshed out, behaviours and reactions are complex and their motives both distinct and ambiguous.
A true genre defier, In Their Sleep is a film that behaves with maturity and handles uncomfortable scenes with a judgement that shows respect for an audience without trying to nurture or spoon-feed them. The violence is unflinching and truly wince-inducing at times, but never just for ostensive shock-value or out of obligation to satisfy the genre’s expectations (look out for some shockingly realistic throat slitting scenes). The audience are afforded an unusual intimacy with the antagonist as opposed to being asked to merely assume his bad intentions on say-so and continue without question. As such, we are invited to explore his warped little world in detail; to understand his plight as much as that of our protagonist.
The performance and dedication of Anne Parillaud in the title role deserves special mention, creating a genuinely convincing, almost heartbreaking impression of a woman haunted by tragedy (and even let ants crawl in and out of her mouth at one point!). While the musical scoring doesn’t quite meet the candour of its cast – feeling a little dated and out of step in some places – and the penultimate quarter seems to tarry without cause for a time, the ultimate effect and feel of the film remain intact. An intellectual horror, an unflinching look at the darker side of the human condition and a probing study into our ability to reconcile our complex humanity with an unsympathetic reality, In Their Sleep comes highly recommended for horror fans looking for a little more substance in their viewing diet.