By Emily Zhang
Monsters hiding under the bed and chainsaw rampages are familiar scenes that come to mind when thinking about horror films. What you often don’t see, however, is what happens when a husband’s behaviour in his sleep takes an eerie turn, causing a series of inexplicable events to unfold.
That’s what happens in the plot of Sleep, a Korean horror-thriller written and directed by Jason Yu as his first feature film. The dark horror was screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and did not disappoint as a debut film. Having worked as director Bong Joon-Ho’s assistant director for Okja (2017), Yu’s movie Sleep garners the essence and inspiration of Joon-Ho’s work.
Hyeon-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) and Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi) are a young married couple soon expecting their first-born daughter. Things quickly take a weird turn as the couple begins experiencing trouble at night. Hyeon-soo, the husband, finds himself sleepwalking, but the real problem arises when he starts developing supernatural behaviour that puts his family in danger.
The film follows the steps of Soo-jin, the expectant mother who begins noticing her husband’s strange sleeping habits, which soon becomes a significant problem that disrupts the married couple’s lives. Soo-jin begins researching her husband’s symptoms and seeking help from her mother. As she desperately tries to heal her husband’s disease, she finds herself engulfed in fear and anxiety that puts their marriage in jeopardy.
The couple goes to extreme lengths to cure Hyeon-soo’s behaviour: locking doors, installing metal bars and even hiding kitchen knives. The movie puts you on the edge of your seat as viewers desperately wait for the husband’s next move in his sleep. As part of the audience, you’re left feeling vulnerable and shaken by the many incidents in their apartment. Despite the uneasy feeling it gives off, the film is a balanced blend of dark humour and horror elements. One second you’ll find yourself laughing and the next, jumping from your seat in shock.
The final scene brings us right back to the start with the sound of snoring, which is a constant throughout the entire film. The husband’s snoring serves as an ominous signal, ushering in a sense of alarm and concern for both the wife and us as viewers. Yu’s use of sound is clever and helps underline the eeriness threatening the couple’s lives, whether it be the husband’s snoring or the loud banging from upstairs.
The actress Jung Yu-mi is remarkable in her portrayal of the wife, allowing us to feel and sympathise with her every emotion along the way. From her all-consuming worry to obsessive disturbing behaviour, the actress brings the audience on an emotional roller-coaster, building and breaking our trust along the way.
Sleep is an impressive debut that’s not to be missed. Perfectly balanced and fresh, it’s rare to see horror films portrayed in such an imaginative and fun way.