One year on from the violent death of her son, Sarah (Anne Parillaud) is still clearly not the full shilling. Medicated and disconnected, she is sleepwalking through her job as a nurse. She is sent home to get some clearly needed rest, and driving down a narrow country lane she runs, literally, into Arthur (Arthur Dupont), a young man apparently running from a burglar he caught in the act, a bloodied lunatic (Thierry Frémont) who dogs them with his car as she tries to drive him to safety. Two police at a roadblock had indeed warned her earlier about a housebreaker in the area, but Arthur isn’t telling all he knows, and there are worse crimes than burglary…
Clocking in at a lean 79 minutes, Caroline and Eric du Potet’s In Their Sleep is a creepy little psycho-thriller that makes the most out of comparatively little; it has a location or three, some cars, Eric Neveux’s effective (Theremin!) score and a small cast, but exploits these resources to great effect. The du Potets have clearly spent some time working out their tale and how best to tell it; information about the characters and what’s going on emerges gradually in well-timed flashbacks, and as much through visual clues, physical acting and expression as through the minimal dialogue. While much of the business of the film will be familiar to genre fans (home invasions, chases, moonlit attacks, narrow escapes) it is made more interesting by the psychological dynamics. None of the characters appears to be quite in their right mind, and, as the title suggests, In Their Sleep is preoccupied with different states of consciousness: insomnia, death and coma, being knocked out and coming to. From the start, it has a fractured waking dream quality, where terrible unexplained things can happen in broad daylight, and from then on nobody has the full picture, and the truth remains elusive. We know more than any of the people on screen, but the filmmakers aren’t above screwing with our perceptions either.
Sarah and Arthur are the heart of the film, both are damaged in their own ways, and it’s their relationship that gives the film some bite and depth. She clearly begins to see a substitute son in Arthur, and can’t stop her maternal instincts overcoming her reason. He begins to find something in her that he clearly needs. It’s a goddamn Freudian minefield, and well played by Parillaud and Dupont as they swing through states of distrust and affection (and a queasy sexual attraction).
It’s a class act, and relatively restrained, which may be a problem for anyone expecting anything along the lines of Switchblade Romance or Frontiers, who may be disappointed by the paucity of overt violence or visual hysteria. But it walks its own path, the understatement just makes some scenes more unsettling, and while In Their Sleep is essentially just a neat low-budget thriller along the lines of many others, Arthur and Sarah will linger in the memory.