*This review was originally published at Movie Mezzanine.
In Mona Fastvold’s debut feature, The Sleepwalker, Kaia (Gitte Witt) and Andrew (Christopher Abbott) are a young couple who have recently began residing in the former’s paternal house, a remote and gargantuan building surrounded with untamed nature and filled with remnants of a family whose dysfunctions are plain even in small, dusty photographs. Their serene stay consists of a gradual attempt at renovating the place, which is cut short by the abrupt entrance of Kaia’s sister, Christine (Stephanie Ellis). Christine is a troubled young woman whose nervous gestures betray something deeply broken inside her. Shortly after it is revealed that she is pregnant, her fiancé, Ira (Brady Corbet) also arrives, completing a quartet that is no less problematic than the original family.
Christine is soon proved to be the sleepwalker of the title, though not before an increasingly uncomfortable dinner-table conversation reveals a mysterious past relationship between her and Andrew. The primary force of the plot is the mystery surrounding their childhood and their potentially abusive father. The large burn marks on Kaia’s body are particularly a source of intrigue: possibly the result of a violent fire set to the home’s garage by Christine or a severe punishment by their absent father, or perhaps some other unknown secret the film cares little to expand upon.
These mysterious elements allow Fastvold – who co-wrote the film with Corbet – to create an eerie ambience that feels genuinely terrifying at times. One particular sequence, in which Andrew leaves the house for the next-door garage at night induces horror with such nonchalant ease that one wonders what could have been if a first-time director of such confidence had better material on paper to work with. For every moment of brilliance as such, there is one in which a clichéd horror trope is used to pointless effect – a knife for a birthday gift!