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Sleeper's Wake
Genre Thriller

Crime haunts us in South Africa. We live on the edge in order to stay one step ahead of what seems to be an unofficial tax for living in such a beautiful country. Being grateful that we're alive (and insured) are how we get by, yet the toll of the trauma and stress remains a mystery...

Sleeper's Wake deals with the darker, primal urges of living in a seemingly lawless country, where citizens are confronted with the unthinkable and pushed to the edge. We're introduced to a writer, whose family has been taken away from him. He retreats to a cabin in Nature's Cove, to cope with grief and recuperate from the tragedy. However, he's not the only one.

Barry Berk's debut feature shows incredible promise, deftly handling an adaptation of Alistair Morgan's novel and creating a powerful, haunting and slow-burning thriller. Sleeper's Wake has the atmosphere of The Gift and the primal instinct of The Hunter, set against a beautiful environment and entrenching itself in the mystery of human nature.

Lionel Newton stars as John Wraith, a guilt-stricken husband and father, cursed with a scar on his forehead. Newton is pensive as a likable yet tragic character, who tries to drown out his deep-seated grief, guilt and disconnectedness by defaulting to animal instincts.

He's supported by a stalwart in Deon Lotz (Skoonheid), whose mere presence adds weight and intensity to the drama, playing a devout religious man and struggling father of two. Jay Anstey's bold supporting role as a reckless daughter adds angst, mystique and an element of danger to Sleeper's Wake, leveraging her natural beauty to create tension.

The lead performances are all solid, but it's the treatment of the lesser characters that is bothersome. Stiaan Smith's part has been under-developed and his take on the local security officer seems off-centre and not in-line with the tone of Sleeper's Wake. Bayo Jwayi is effective as Doreen, a character time bomb that wasn't wired properly. Luke Tyler's role as a devoid teenager is good but ghostly - relegating a young talent to slightly more teen angst and a lost subplot.

Sleeper's Wake has been beautifully shot - swathing the mystery with a Terrence Malick affinity for nature. From the opening credits, the cinematography channels the story like a vision without leaning heavily on dialogue. The lush vegetation and rugged coastline convey the emotional undercurrent with some strong symbolism and lucid flashbacks.

The storyline is somewhat jagged. It's refreshing not to be spoon-fed, but there are one or two occasions that seem a bit jerky. As a slow-boiling mystery thriller, it delivers on the third act - taking what would seem inevitable and turning it on its head. After some erotic interludes and rising tension, it implodes with a cacophony of unbridled violence.

The soundtrack creates a foreboding atmosphere, ratcheting up the uneasiness and menace of the drama, while delivering a beautifully understated and haunting sound-scape. We're gently lured into the writer's "retreat", never welcome but fully aware of impending devastation.

Barry Berk has taken Sleeper's Wake and South African film to another level. While flawed, the film-makers handle a difficult subject with great dexterity - expressing great emotional weight, a fearless attitude and delivering a story that has raw staying power.

The bottom line: Dangerous

6.50/10 ( 2 Votes )
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