Photograph: Curzon
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4 out of 5 stars

Sleepwalking turns a cosy apartment into a death trap in this gripping K-horror

Kambole Campbell

Time Out says

There’s a real horror to extreme cases of sleepwalking – one that’s not unlike possession. The loss of bodily autonomy, the unwitting threat to one’s loved ones, the lack of awareness that these things are even happening. In Sleep, director Jason Yu turns that idea into a home-invasion thriller where the trespasser is whatever is forcing Hyun-su (Parasite’s late, great Lee Sun-kyun) to do strange things while he’s unconscious. Soon, his cosy domestic space is alive with danger. 

It starts small: Hyun-su is sitting upright in bed and murmuring ‘someone’s inside’, leading his wife Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi) to think that there’s a stranger in their home, a feeling affirmed by the strange noises coming from the landing. But the stranger is actually Hyun-su himself, who has begun to wander the apartment in his sleep. The noise comes from a slipper left behind on his midnight excursion to jam a door open. And these episodes only more menacing from there: in one of the film’s most disturbing images, Hyun-su uncontrollably claws at his own face. 

The home of Sleep’s newlywed couple is transformed by their desperate attempts to safeguard it from these nightly episodes. Yu, an assistant director on Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, shows a similar taste in dark comedy as the Korean master – personal anxieties externalised in instances that can turn from horrific to funny in their absurdity. One such early moment is a simple edit: one of Hyun-su’s spooky night-time walks culminates in him urinating on a balcony, an image that Yu match-cuts to the rain outside. Later, a frenzied PowerPoint presentation underlines a character’s deteriorating state of mind in grimly amusing fashion. 

Yu shares Bong Joon-ho’s taste for dark comedy 

As they round off the edges of countertops and leave bells on doors, the couple’s anxieties become a little clearer: the fear of new parenthood, of being responsible for a fragile life when your own seems out of your control. Lee and Jung are funny and charming as the fraying couple, which brings their deterioration into sharper focus. 

Sleep efficiently details this cruel accumulation of stresses driving the couple apart, turning them into superstitious people, in places ironically reflecting the qualities they loathe in their own parents. Coupled with some smart, subtle production design as the apartment turns more and more claustrophobic, it makes for an impressive debut.

In UK cinemas Jul 12.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Jason Yu
  • Screenwriter:Jason Yu
  • Cast:
    • Jung Yu-mi
    • Lee Sun-kyun
    • Kim Gook Hee
    • Yoon Kyung-ho
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