An off-kilter funereal march of a movie, State Like Sleep is a thriller that never quite fulfills its promises.
Meredith Danluck’s State Like Sleep is a question without an answer; a hazy and unfocused plod through grief and conspiracy that promises thrills which never arrive. And despite a talented cast working very hard to keep audiences invested in the director’s twisty screenplay, it quickly becomes apparent that the bizarre film isn’t going anywhere worth visiting.
The chameleonic Katherine Waterston plays American photographer Katherine, floating aimlessly through the hole in her life that opened up when her Belgian movie star husband, Stefan (Michiel Huisman), put a hole in his head. Returning to their home in Brussels a year later, Katherine finds her mother (Mary Kay Place) has had a minor stroke and is in need of medical care, and that her late husband’s apparent suicide has left a trail of clues weaving through Belgium’s drug-addled high-society.
Katherine’s sleuthing – and State Like Sleep’s time-hopping structure – has her cross paths with Stefan’s mother, Anneke (Julie Khaner), who openly despises her, his sleazy and lecherous club-owning best friend Emile (Luke Evans – a surprising highlight), and Michael Shannon’s enigmatic businessman Edward, who is staying in Katherine’s hotel and keeps showing up in unlikely places. All the while Katherine remains at a remove from the exclusive environments she finds herself navigating; detached by her grief and her sensibilities. Waterston’s palpable physical and emotional overwhelm keeps State Like Sleep somewhat watchable even as it meanders after countless red herrings and along ill-defined emotional fault lines.
There’s just nowhere for the performers to go. The film is content to languish, focusing heavily on Katherine’s search for meaning yet failing to provide any, either for her or the audience. Danluck’s assumption that her off-kilter settings and characters would be so interesting on their face that nothing need be done with them proves misguided. State Like Sleep is persistently deprived of energy, much like its supporting players are deprived of purpose. Shannon and Evans hint at a better film that they might have enlivened. As it stands their charisma is confined in a fancy bottle that never pops the cork.