In Their Sleep (2010)

In Their Sleep is a quality debut by French writers / directors Caroline and Eric du Potet. It never intrudes and certainly doesn’t bore, being constantly intriguing even when the pace sags – it forces you to watch, questioning the motivations of the characters throughout. It is a taut little horror-thriller with some superb central performances.

While driving home from work, Sarah (Anne Parillaud) smashes into a teenager, knocking him down. Sarah is horrified, but her concern turns to terror she realizes young Arthur (Arthur Dupont) is being chased by a hammer-wielding maniac. Unwittingly becoming part of a harrowing cat-and-mouse chase, Sarah drives the injured Arthur to her home, hoping to protect him. All is not well, however, when the stalker appears at her isolated house and Arthur starts to behave very strangely…

In Their Sleep features a very small cast. It relies on their believability and relationships, and they work very well. Anne Parillaud is very good as the grieving mother Sarah, whose actions are responsible and easily understandable, making her a sympathetic protagonist. Likewise Arthur Dupont is superb, giving a troubled performance that is compelling and equally disturbing. Their stalker (played by Thierry Fremont) is perhaps the most surprising of the trio. He is equally brilliant when he’s being calm or when he’s psychotically driving his car through a barn wall. It is a quality performance.

In Their Sleep does have a number of problems, and mostly with the plotting. It features a non-linear structure that does work at times, but at others seems unnecessarily trite, like an echoing homage to Tarantino. The major reveal hits us mid-way, causing everything to change, but leaves us hanging awkwardly over a gaping chasm of “what now?”. There is also one random dream sequence dropped in, which seems more like an alternative ending and is mostly pointless. This is detrimental to the film as a whole and the du Potets are lucky they had such a strong cast and some smart dialogue, because this could’ve been disastrous if the characters were unconvincing.

Despite the plot being twisting and non-linear, the film’s plotting is rarely surprising, throwing out expected situations and moments that occasionally border on cliché. Regardless of plotting failures, however, there are genuine surprises in In Their Sleep, and these come from specific moments dotted throughout the film. In places it is horrendously brutal and surprisingly horrible, especially when you finally realize what the title means.

The title In Their Sleep isn’t just about a horrible incident, however, and can easily refer to Sarah and the stalker and the millions of us who wander through life in waking dreams, trusting anyone and everything, sometimes to our great misfortune. The overarching themes of trust, love and betrayal are embedded within this film, and it’s more than just a common stalk-slash-kill movie, with a genuinely interesting antagonist who has unclear motivations.

In Their Sleep is a decent horror-thriller with some harsh moments, some dodgy plotting and some excellent acting. This is nothing tremendously special but it is very watchable and enjoyable throughout.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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