Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
Loose Ends Lead to Bubble Bath Fetishes
Written and directed by Meredith Danluck, State Like Sleep is a drama that follows an American photographer named Katherine (Katherine Waterston) as she tries to wrap her head around the shocking death of her Belgian actor husband Stefan Delvoe (Michiel Huisman). Their marriage was on the verge of a separation and Stefan was known for his drug use, so his death is classified as a suicide but Katherine begins to piece together a hidden life she never knew her husband had.
This film has a fairly awful reputation and was seemingly dumped into a handful of theaters and on digital/streaming services during its initial release back in the first part of January in 2019. State Like Sleep isn’t quite as horrendous as its poor reputation, but its main issue is that it doesn’t really go anywhere. Instead of coming up with a satisfying conclusion, it’s as if Meredith Danluck decided to acknowledge the film’s shortcomings in the actual screenplay and leave things as is which only makes the writing of the film feel overwhelmingly lethargic and lackadaisical.
Katherine Waterston does what she can with what is otherwise a lifeless character. Katherine is shell-shocked from discovering her husband’s corpse and is in a state of disbelief and despair the majority of the film. The Katherine character is put through a relentless hell as things only get worse for her. Her mother, Elaine (Mary Kay Place), is hospitalized after a stroke and needs to be put into an induced coma to heal after brain surgery. Meanwhile, Stefan’s mother, Anneke (Julie Khaner), wants Katherine to sign over all of Stefan’s finances and belongings since she is hurting for money. Then there’s the married traveler known as Edward (Michael Shannon) who Katherine finds intriguing despite his reputation of sleeping around with strangers.
Waterston masterfully portrays someone who has lost and is currently losing everything an individual would find valuable. She panics, breaks down, and copes with tragedy in a way a broken person would just as a means to feel whole again or at least feel like they’re not losing grip on the world that has been their anchor for the past two years.
The leaps between the past and the present are awkward in the sense that the film doesn’t clarify how long it’s been for almost an hour. Your only giveaway is Katherine’s hair; long in the past and short in the present. You also want more out of the bleached blonde exotic night club owner character Emile that Luke Evans portrays. Emile is the enigma that seemingly has the answer of what happened the night of Stefan’s death and yet he doesn’t provide any sort of answer only more questions. The only memorable thing Emile does in the film is shoot a parrot after snorting heroin and losing it because somebody “touched his controls.”
The storyline and pacing of State Like Sleep can be compared to digging out the jumbled, sloppy, and impossible mess Christmas lights become during the 11-month slumber they partake in every year. The clues Katherine finds during her investigation keep you interested throughout the film, but there’s no earth shattering revelation waiting at the finish line. The downfall is that the film knows this and blatantly establishes that, “There are always loose ends.”
Other aspects make the film stagnant rather than propel it forward like the guy with the bubble bath fetish who orgasms in his tighty whities while washing Katherine’s hair, Katherine and Edward’s conversation about words whose meanings match what they sound and feel like, and questionable lines of dialogue that are thrown in to purposely befuddle the audience like, “And from what garden do you grow,” and, “You smell like the sun.”
The mysterious atmosphere of State Like Sleep is its strongest attribute and you’re genuinely interested in how someone who has gone through a laundry list of devastating occurrences could possibly recover. The only problem is that Meredith Danluck has no interest in providing you with any sort of concrete answers. The beauty is that state of wondering and that confusing sensation of not knowing where to go, what to do, or who to turn to is all the experience has to offer. When your life turns to absolute crap, Danluck is saying that all you can do is have a cigarette, take a deep breath, and go with your gut instinct by the time you exhale. Everyone has secrets and we don’t always get the answer we want or one at all in some instances. Life is too short not to enjoy it with someone you like even if he’s married and you’re still in mourning over the guy you were in the process of leaving anyway.
© 2019 Chris Sawin