Arlene lives in a small town in Ireland where everyone knows one another. She works in a fabric plant by day and whiles away the hours in the evening before the fun really begins. Ever since childhood, Arlene has been a sleepwalker, and she regularly wakes up in unfamiliar places.
One night she wakes in a nearby forest to find that she’s not alone. Beside her is the corpse of another local girl. Instead of alerting anyone to this, Arlene steals off, showers and goes to work as usual. Of course the body is later discovered and the police move in.
As interest is aroused in the town Arlene becomes increasingly obsessed with the dead girl. She befriends her sister, hangs around her house and becomes close to her boyfriend. All the while Arlene's own sense of time and self is dissipating as she struggles to stay awake and control her nocturnal wanderings.
The Other Side of Sleep, a bleak film by first time director Rebecca Daly, is ultimately something more than a traditional murder mystery, despite the occasional red herring.
This is a portrait of an Irish town in decline. In tandem with Arlene’s morbid obsessions, the obsessions of the townspeople are drawn out by the murder too – the viewer is left to speculate on potential culprits and judge both those arrested and the victim herself.
A particular scene of grim humour has all the passengers of a bus suddenly running to the windows as they pass the site where the body was found. Once passed, they can all settle down to whisper about what’s happened, where previously all on the bus were silent. In a strange way the murder has brought the community together as much as the accusations of guilt have driven it apart.
The cinematography, by Suzie Lavelle, ably assists in painting this portrait, with murky unknowing blacks dominating the many night scenes between the streetlights and bland grey tones emphasizing the lustreless routine life of the town during the day. Local haunts such as a drinking spot for teenagers or patches of disused land outside of town are also filmed with a sympathetic eye.
On top of this, the initial scenes in the forest, as well as others where the line between dream and reality are blurred, have a still, haunting quality, emphasized by the soundtrack.
Michel Schopping and Marc Lizier’s sound design has Arlene followed by the sounds of the forest from the opening scenes, haunted by what she’s seen, and emphasizes the discordancy of everyday sounds such as the white noise of the machinery in the factory where she works, or the dull roar of travelling in a car.
Despite a sterling central performance from Antonia Campbell-Hughes as Arlene and some acutely realised portraits of grief and small town life, the film does tip into melodrama at the last hurdles.
Arlene’s obsessiveness becomes more rote as time goes on and occasional scenes, such as a late night encounter with a stricken animal, belabour points that had already been better made. A false note is also stuck by the ending which is redemptive in the sense of what is expected rather than being consistent with the rest of the film, or growing organically from it.
Despite this The Other Side of Sleep is an interesting film with much to recommend. As a debut feature, it bodes well for Rebecca Daly if she continues to develop scripts that match her visual innovations.
The Other Side of Sleep runs in Queen's Film Theatre from April 13 - 16.