TIFF 2023 | Sleep (Jason Yu, South Korea) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman

According to Bong Joon-ho, Jason Yu’s Cannes entry Sleep is “the most unique horror movie of the past decade”; either director Bong doesn’t get out very much or he’s being a mensch on behalf of his former AD, who should take the pull quote and run with it. What little is unique in Sleep is on offer in its promising first act, which filters a series of authentic parental anxieties through an irresistibly creepy conceit: deep in her third trimester and both brain-dead and bone-weary, Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi) finds herself increasingly fatigued—and terrified—by her husband’s Hyun-su’s (Lee Sun-kyun) nocturnal peregrinations through their apartment. That Hyun-su is a struggling actor is at once a nod to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and a wink that his sleepwalking (and talking, and eating, and peeing, and possible animal killing) may be more self-aware than it seems, but vintage Polanski is a high bar and Yu, for all his perfectly solid craft, doesn’t build up enough momentum (or bad vibes) to surmount it. Instead, Sleep gets about as much vertical as your average American elevated horror movie before admittedly sticking the landing. Yu’s rewards await him; expect an English-language debut in the next couple of years.