Neurologist Nina Evanko is perplexed by the unusual CAT scans of 13-year-old Cora whose been suffering from sudden onset sleepwalking after her birthday party. Believing the CAT scan is going through calibration issue with imaging process, Nina orders another set of scans, but when the scans produce the same result and a death of another patient right in front of Cora sends her home early before Nina’s arrival to study the results, Nina convinces Cora’s parents to an at-home sleep observation to root Cora’s sleepwalking cause. What Nina finds is far more sinister than night terrors or any other kind of parasomnia as a demon has inhabited Cora’s body with nefarious intentions. Cora’s only hope to save her soul is her bewildered parents, a rattled neurologist, and a rogue priest but a family secret may consume everything.
If you’re still looking to support Ukraine during the now 6 plus months Russia invasion of their sovereign neighbor, why not support the Ukrainian-U.S. collaborative cinema? Why not start more precisely with Andrzej Sekula’s 2021 child-possession thriller “While We Sleep” set in the Ukrainian capital and flagship city of Kiev. Sekula, known more for his work with Quentin Tarantino as a cinematographer on “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” as well as “American Psycho” and “Hackers,” has quietly and seldomly helmed a handful of films over the two decades with “Cube 2: Hyperspace” being one of them. “While We Sleep” returns Sekula to the director’s chair for the first time since 2006 with a script by Rich Bonat and the film’s supporting costar Brian Gross, the first feature script penned by the “Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman” and remake of “2001 Maniacs” actor. “While We Sleep” is coproduced by American Brian Gross and Kiev-Los Angeles based CinemAday productions, which include company bigwigs Rich Ronat, Yuriy Karnovsky, and Yuriy Prylypko.
While much of the story begins with Cora and her parents (real life family of husband Brian Gross, wife Jacy King, and daughter Lyra Irene Gross) cursed by Cora’s acute and disconcerting sleepwalking disorder and moody behavior, the daily battle to understand their predicament is not left in the out of their league but most lovable hands of the parents as the film leads you to believe. Roughly half hour into the film, the narrative switches from the convincing family perspective, despite building background on their low-band relationship troubles and move it nearly 100% to Nina’s problem-solving perspective with a hint of her own troubled past. Kiev born and “Stranger” actress Darya Tregubova plays the neurologist too curious to shrug off the mysterious case of Cora’s abnormal scans. Tregubova is fetching without saying but she doesn’t provide the necessary emotional weight of person who’s going through grief and loss issues from the past. Tregubova also doesn’t convey the necessary weight toward her strong connection to Cora and Cora’s case with only a few expositional moments that hint at such. These aspects leave Nina outside the bubble of plot events that make the character stick out as unnecessary even more with the character’s negligent professionalism surrounding the wellbeing of Cora and with the parent interactions. Once the story butts in randomly the blacklisted priest, Father Andrey (Oliver Trevena, “The Reckoning”), with an intimate familiarity with the demon that possess Cora, we know that the story is lost as it tries to quickly and covertly wrap its grip around how to come to a head with this storyline. You can’t have a possession film without a priest, right? Father Andrey feels very much like a leftover thought, but Trevena tries his darnedest to sell a washed-up man of the cloth with desperation pouring from word out his mouth despite looking like an English hooligan in a pop collared leather jacket.
“While We Sleep” has not-so-brittle bones of demonism and possession albeit lacking its own or established cultural mythos, yet there’s a disjointed nature about the story structure and plot points that just don’t make sense that crumble that coherency faster than Cora descending into the depths of demonic disorder. The opening scene is the most perplexing of all with an elaborate birthday cake that neither mom nor dad had made or bought for Cora’s 13th year. Without a care in the world, mom and dad don’t explore further who could have possibly made such a beautiful cake and little do they know, the cake, or rather the cake’s candles, are a conduit for demonic transmission into the soul. This part is never explained through the rest of the picture and, in fact, Gross or Bonat don’t touch back upon a possibility of explaining the odious presence. Much of everything is taken a face value, such as the fact Cora cuts her long hair to a pixie style without an eyelash being bat or in what’s more crtical to the plot is with Cora’s real and darkly unholy father backstory. Those facts are a shot to the brain and we’re still not understanding where Cora’s biological father fits into Cora’s space, into her mother’s space, or even into Father Andrey’s space, but you would think as important as this twist was suddenly deluged in a quick spit of point-blank honesty, the edges would be smoothed over and the picture would become clear as the holy water that was cross was spritzed with; yet, that the aggregation of aggravation of little-to-no details continues to carry out as if everything is perfectly peachy and comprehendible within the story context.
From the at-home release distributor that delivered John Travolta as “The Fanatic,” VMI Releasing, a subsidiary of VMI WorldWide, releases “While We Sleep” on DVD home video. The clear snapper cased DVD, a MPEG-2 formatted DVD5, is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio with an average speed bitrate of 4-5 Mbps. You can see noticeable banding issues in the darker bedroom scenes sporadically throughout. Aside from that, the picture result is fair with more than enough detail for viewing. The English-Ukranian soundtrack is not listed on the back cover, but my SEIKI player reads two audio options: a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Dolby Digital dual channel 2.0. Discerning the difference between two is not worth the effort as there’s only subtleties in the output. The 5.1 surround sound has obvious better capacity for multi-channeling. Optional English subtitles are available but neither one of the audio tracks available nor the subtitles offer English captioning for the Ukranian dialogue and often times, there are back and forth exchanges that are intended to carry worth behind the exchange. The subtitles just state foreign language speaking which doesn’t help at all so there’s a bit of lost in translation in the dialogue unless you happen to speak or understand East Slavic languages. The 92-minute film comes unrated but doesn’t come with any bonus material as a feature only release. “While We Sleep” only nips at attempting to be a better than average “Exorcist” akin contemporary but remains on the haphazard course of shaky character building and bumpy, unpaved developments that make only for a rocky portrait of possession.