A tormented mother, Sarah (Anne Parillaud), mourning the loss of her teenage son, drives into a young stranger, Arthur (Arthur Dupont), on the road home. Soon after he comes to, another car races down the deserted road toward them. Fearing for his safety, she escapes the other vehicle and brings Arthur to her home to tend to his wounds. When the other vehicle later appears outside, the past begins to unravel and Sarah must determine what is real, what it the truth and who the killer really is.
In Their Sleep, written and directed by Caroline and Eric du Potet, is a tense, emotional French thriller. The directing duo craft a handsome film full of lush cinematography and realistic locations. The film builds on a concise script weaving a horrific and tragic story. While the plot is a bit predictable, the strength of the characters keeps it entertaining. Featuring only a handful of characters, the entire cast provide strong, emotional performances; the performances drive the story and draw the audience into their peril, their agony and their depression.
Anne Parillaud portrays Sarah and fills her with sadness and anguish. She is a tragic character from the very start, desperate to find happiness and fill a void in her existence. Sarah follows her heart despite what she learns and Parillaud is convincing allowing the character to make decisions that are against her better judgment. Her entire body aches for the her desire to fact and the truth to fiction. The result is a bleak descent into a calm madness, a reserved awareness that her fate has been sealed not matter how hard she might try.
Arthur Dupont brings the young stranger named Arthur to life with great depth, innocent, charm and treachery. He is able to in one instance be innocent and vulnerable then in the next become evil and dangerous. Arthur also displays a compassionate chemistry between him and Anne (Sarah) that is compelling and raw. As a result, his actions and motives with Sarah are felt not told allowing the audience to experience his growing attraction to Sarah. He is drawn to her sadness, her loss and her loneliness. He is very much like her and he recognizes it almost immediately.
Thierry Fremont brings a surprisingly rich character to In Their Sleep as the man chasing Arthur wanting to kill him. At first he is frightening, imposing and violent, later he is shown to be emotional, tragic and driven. Taken on its own, his story is the thread woven through the script – the catalyst. The character and performance is memorable and tragic and heartbreaking: it is the backbone that supports the other two characters’ actions and motives, adding weight to their arcs and the story itself. His story is a precursor to both Sarah and Arthur somehow managing to simultaneously parallel both character’s possible outcomes.
The story is filled with flashbacks throughout serving to both educate the audience to previous events and to illustrate motivations behind the lead characters. The flashbacks also serve to compound the dread and doom that closes in on Sarah. What’s interesting about these flashbacks is how the directors have decided to employ them. They appear when a character either falls asleep or losses consciousness. The screen goes dark and the story begins to unravel its mysterious past until it is ready to pick up the narrative once again. The technique is effective and each trip back provides more tension, fear and foreboding. It also breaks up the story into small vignettes, each building on the last.
Compared to recent French genre entries, In Their Sleep is not as ground breaking or shocking as Martyrs (2008), Frontiers (2007) or Inside (2007); it is more intimate and reserved focusing on Sarah and Arthur and the horrific events that surround their lives. While it suffers from having a thin mystery that it wears on its sleeve, the script’s predictability is intended to ramp up the tension and keep the audience on edge, fearing the inevitable outcome of its leading lady. The film gains its strength from three strong, impassioned performances from its leads filling their characters with dread, pain and sorrow. The film also had a bold, bleak ending that rings true to the characters that is as frightening in its implications as the movie is in its execution. Caroline and Eric du Potet’s fragmented, almost dreamlike, approach to the story keeps nerves on their edge and a suffocating sense of dread in the air. In Their Sleep is recommended viewing.