English Review: THE SLEEPER (Justin Russell – 2012)


Original Title: The Sleeper
2012 – U.S.A.
Genre: Slasher made in 80
Director: Justin Russell
Music: Gremlin
Screenplay: Justin Russell
With Brittany Belland, E. Ray Goodwin, Jason Jay Crabtree, Elizabeth Lane, Jenna Fournier and Jessica Cameron

Story: It’s 1981 and the girls of Alpha Gamma Theta sorority are having a party. As the new pledges arrive, so does an uninvited guest. Little do the sisters know someone is watching them in the shadows. As the girls shower, study, eat and sleep the stalker studies the girls. One by one he finds the girls at their most vulnerable and murders them. The police hunt for the missing girls and their killer, but will they find them in time? Or will the girls be forced to fight for their lives…

It’s by continuing my exploration of low budget indie horror film that I got into The Sleeper, a modest production with a $30k budget, a tribute to the slasher genre, especially the slashers from the 80s. No surprise then to find ourselves with an pronounced VHS grain for the opening sequence, a synthesizer ambient soundtrack signed by Gremlin, a typical aesthetic, a killer wearing black gloves and a hammer. What is more surprising, it’s the fact that we easily notice that the film first influence is not so much the 80s slashers, although we recognize a few scenes, tributes to particular films (Graduation Day for example, shot in 1981, the year The Sleeper takes place, but also Prom Night for the shots when the killer uses lipstick on the pictures of his victims), but rather the movie Black Christmas from 1973. A film forgotten nowadays, except from moviegoers, despite the presence of Margot Kidder, and its awful remake in 2006 (with Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The Sleeper doesn’t take a lot of risks, and we could easily say its plot is basically based on Black Christmas. However, The Sleeper manages to take a real step back in time, to immerse us in a very appreciable atmosphere rarely seen now, at a time when slashers are keeping all the defects of the genre and are eclipsing the tension and atmosphere.

So, The Sleeper, the story of a serial killer (makes sense) who will take down several women residing in the same house. From the beginning, we are in the proper atmosphere. Music, alcohol, youth, a subjective view outside, slow and classy camera movements. The more surprising thing at first is the visual quality of the film, despite its very low budget, and we owe this to Justin Russell, director, screenwriter, but also editor and cinematographer of his film. He gives us a very clean and professional job, and we can feel on each shots that he loves the genre he tackles. The script, well, we can’t say that same thing about it. It respects the genre to the letter, perhaps a little too much at times, respecting the clichés of the genre. Yes, women who lose their virginity are killed first (poor Jessica Cameron), when the killer tries a door it’s opened, a cop pursues the killer without any reinforcement. Nothing dramatic in here as long as we are in the atmosphere, since we also find all the good clichés of the genre, with the subjective POV from the killer, the close-ups, violent murders, strange voices on the phone, the ultimate return of the killer…

Still, we could expect more variety, more surprising ideas. Oh well. We could also say that if Justin Russell loves the genre, and respects it, we could expect more nudity from it, especially as a tribute to the 80s. Nothing here, but hey, we have murders! If the weapons are not original or even very different (often a hammer, a rope, an axe), he will use his weapon to strike its victims on various way, bringing special effects each time different from previous ones. No routine there. Still, our killer is not Jason Voorhees, not many murders here, but we can count on the 80s atmosphere and the very effective musical score to make it work. No doubt that those of you who have grown up with those kind of slashers will find what they want in here, despite its obvious flaws. It’s also sad that the film leaves behind the special grain from its opening sequence after a few minutes, or the fact the film doesn’t dare to try new things. But The Sleeper delivers what we can expect from it on 90 minutes, and in the end, that’s good already!

The best

A nice tribute to the 80s
Visually good
Nice musical score


A few ideas left behind quickly
Some bad clichés
Could be more creative on some point

So: The Sleeper is a tribute to those slashers from the 70s and 80s, and borrows heavily from the plot of Black Christmas (1973). The tribute isn’t without flaws, but still entertaining and seriously packed!

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