FILM REVIEW: The Sleeper (2012)

Horror film is a difficult medium to pull off correctly. Good horror films are another matter completely. The Sleeper is a perfect example of a decent horror entry that exhibits many technical flaws that hold it back from being a really great throwback film. Is it worth watching? Let's discuss...shall we?

First off, the film looks amazing. Director/producer/writer/cinematographer/sound editor/film editor Justin Russell deserves all the credit for the overall look of The Sleeper. I mean...the guy pretty much does it all. Seriously...he does it all. He's the DP/director/producer/writer...yadda yadda which kinda adds to the film's detriment. More on this later.

The premise is a familiar one. Set in 1981...the story revolves around the Alpha Gamma Theta sorority house during a pledge party. Amy (Brittany Belland) is a new pledge and she wants to become a Theta sister to get out of her dorm room. As the story unfolds, we are introduced to "the sleeper". A lunatic killer who enjoys putting his victims to "sleep". As he fixates his sleepy evil on the Theta sisters, the girls must all fight for their lives.

The acting, for the most part, is unimpressive and kind of laughable at times. It's a shame because the film is shot rather impressively and looks a lot better than what the actors would have you believe. The line between serious horror throwback and 80's horror caricature is often crossed liberally. Sometimes, you just can't tell if the performances were cheesy on purpose...or because the actor/actress really sucks. I honestly hope that the film isn't winking at the audience with intentional bad acting...because if that's the case, I won't recommend this film. This is the one exception where I sincerely hope the bad acting is unintentional. I like the film more as an honest horror film homage rather than a winking one-note joke to a truly great era of horror.

Take Riana Ballo, for instance. She plays Theta sister Stacey. At one point during the film, Stacey goes to the campus swimming pool one night for some late night practice because she's got a swim meet coming up in a couple weeks. It's pretty clear by the casual viewer that Riana Ballo is not a swimmer. Her dive was unintentionally hilarious and the way she was swimming for that upcoming meet was equally hilarious. I've watched enough Natalie Coughlin to understand a swimmer's form and Ballo clearly does not have it. Perhaps I'm nitpicking here as I am aware that it was necessary to make Stacey a "swimmer" for the character's motivation of going out for a late night swim....however, at least get a real swimmer to stand in for her and film her swimming a lap or two. I just looks stupid.

It's a good thing that Riana Ballo is fuckin' hot, tho...because in the end, it's really all an excuse to get her in a bikini for the film and show some horror movie skin. Oh...while we're on the subject of horror movie skin. The film is about a killer stalking young hot-ish sorority girls. Would it have killed Russell to write in a few more nude scenes?? I'm not trying to sound shallow or anything...but, most...well, all of the horror films that I remember from the early 80's had gratuitous nudity in them. So, what's up with the scarcity of boobies in the film?? There's a shower scene with no nudity. In a horror film! COME ON!!

The sound editing is horrible...which falls directly on Russell's shoulders. There's so much noticeable background noise and static in every scene that it gets irritating after a while. The special FX is also pretty bad. I'm talking CVS Halloween make-up bad. Now, I realize that the budget for The Sleeper is somewhere around $30k...but, it's frustrating to know that if these drawbacks had been dealt with...I'd be talking about how absolute amazing The Sleeper is. The film has a lot going for it that makes the whole experience worth sitting through the bad stuff.

Jason Jay Crabtree plays a great villain in "the sleeper". His phone calls are disturbingly menacing and the way he stalks around feels really natural in a film paying homage to 80's horror villains. The original Black Christmas, The Prowler and When a Stranger Calls come to mind. Even the faces he makes in the darkness elevates his creepiness. In a great film...Crabtree's performance would probably go down as iconic. Here...he's just relegated to memorable.

Even Brittany Belland's performance as final girl Amy is pretty serviceable. She doesn't play the role like Jocelin Donahue did in the superior The House of the Devil...but, she's still pretty good. I could see her in more genre films. She's got a nice scream. Oh(!)...even Joe Bob Briggs shows up to this 80's party!

The film's original music provided by Gremlin is pretty fucking incredible. Not the music that was in the stupid line-dancing scene (yes...there's a line-dancing scene...yeah, don't ask). After the credits rolled, I immediately Googled where I could find the film's soundtrack and downloaded it at GAMMA KNIFE FILMS! It's seriously that good. Kinda reminded me of Goblin's work from the Argento films from late 70's/early 80's. I'm pretty sure that was the intention.

Despite all the flaws and all the poor decisions by the characters in the film (at one point a police detective orders poor Amy to make a run for it in the dark while he hangs back to bring the killer to justice...SERIOUSLY??)...The Sleeper is a low budget surprise that doesn't necessarily take you anywhere great throughout its 90 minute running time is an entertaining ride into that golden decade of horror that has endured throughout the years. It is a film that could be something special with some tweaks here and there. Perhaps once Justin Russell becomes an established filmmaker, he can go back and do some justice to The Sleeper with a bigger budget pseudo sequel. He's proven with this film that he's got what it takes to become a successful horror director/producer/writer/cinematographer/editor. Just leave the sound editing to someone more capable.

Thanks for reading,