When Angels Sleep is persistently hampered by wonky writing, inconsistent acting and a mostly uninteresting plot, but it’s saved by an unintentionally hilarious English dub.
Written and directed by Gonzalo Bendala, When Angels Sleep debuted on Netflix today with some of the most unintentionally hilarious English dubbing in recent memory. If you’d like to take the film seriously, which you should, I’d suggest you avoid that; I must admit, though, that I kept turning it back on during the story’s slower stretches just for my own amusement, and I can recommend that experience more than When Angels Sleep itself.
The film’s known as Cuando los ángeles duermen in its native Spain (Netflix continues to round out its Spanish library) and is stocked with Spanish actors of wildly variable ability. The protagonist is Germán (Julián Villagrán), a careerist CEO who is predictably too busy with his job to attend to his wife Sandra (Marian Álvarez) and his daughter Estela (Sira Alonso), whose birthday party he is racing to reach when he’s pulled over by two state troopers and forced to spend the night in a motel. Meanwhile, Silvia (Ester Expósito) is a troubled teenager who flees home to spend the night with her friend Gloria (Asia Ortega), doing lines of blow and rejecting the unsubtle advances of Mario (Daniel Jumillas) and El Chato (Christian Mulas), who are trying to get laid as well as high. Shenanigans ensue.
Those shenanigans include some appalling overacting (particularly on the part of Silvia, although it’s difficult to tell whether that’s the fault of Expósito or the dub), and Gloria’s body ending up mangled at the roadside. Thus, the central dramatic question of When Angels Sleep is who, exactly, is more of a threat to innocent, coke-snorting Silvia – Germán, who ignores the orders of the Civil Guard and speeds off into the night, or Mario and El Chato, the latter of whom feels slighted after having had his sloppy sexual advances rejected.
I wish this was more interesting that it ends up being. When Angels Sleep is a short film at just 90 minutes, but it feels much longer, especially considering much of it feels like aimless time-killing rather than meaningful narrative development. Perhaps this is intentional, designed to emphasise Germán’s long journey home and the alienation one feels when they’re miles from anywhere and unsure of how they’re going to get wherever it is they’re going. But it doesn’t make for much of a thriller. Occasionally the film cuts back to Sandra and Estela, to juxtapose innocence with increasing guilt (that’s where the title comes from), and sometimes it uses bouts of violence to keep the audience invested. But it never really manages to succeed, and the perilously under-lit and wonkily-written film offers scant highlights beyond that awful dubbing. Perhaps you should leave it on after all.