Scary Movies (and Super Creeps) – Parasomnia

Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a horror movie worth checking out. Today: Somebody’s got a crush on the coma chick.

William Malone shot the modern day fairy tale in 2008 but due to difficulties in securing distribution, Parasomnia only just recently saw release on DVD and Blu-ray.

The film stars Dylan Purcell as Danny Sloan, an art student who meets a beautiful young woman while visiting his friend in the hospital. Danny, fresh from a break-up, is looking for somebody to take his mind off of a broken heart and this girl seems to be the perfect catch — the only problem is she spends the majority of her life asleep.

Laura Baxter (played by Cherilyn Wilson) suffers from parasomnia, a disease that keeps the young woman asleep throughout most of her life — waking only occasionally for short periods of time. This affliction does not seem to bother Danny — in fact, one suspects it kind of turns him on (which says a lot about the creepiness factor in the film’s romance). For Danny, it was love at first sight and Laura, whenever she awakens, seems to think the same.

Parasomnia is best enjoyed when seen as a fantasy set in modern times. The movie is full of groan-worthy leaps in logic, flights of fancy and the deep, unrealistic longing of fairy tales.

Even though Danny and Laura barley know each other, Danny senses a deep connection with the sleeping beauty. This bond is spurred on by repressed memories that begin to surface of an earlier encounter Danny had with Laura when they were both children. Danny is so smitten with Laura that he plans a grand escape for her when he learns the hospital is about to ship her off to a research lab. Unfortunately, when Danny springs Laura from the hospital he pisses off her neighbor Byron Volpe, a serial killer kept in a padded cell that has also grown obsessed with the slumbering princess.

During their stay in the hospital together, Volpe and Laura had experienced a psychic bond grown from their shared dreams. By invading her dreams, Volpe had managed to warp her mind and twist her will to his own. Danny discovers this the hard way when Laura begins showing psychotic tendencies and murdering his neighbors.

In order to free Laura from Volpe’s grip and wake his love, it’s going to take more than a simple kiss — he’s going to need to kill the psychopath.

Unfortunately, Volpe (played by Patrick Kilpatrick) is a genuine super villain — complete with uncanny powers. Besides invading people’s dreams, Volpe can use his magical eyes to hypnotize people with one glance. Like I said, this movie is best enjoyed once you realize it’s as much a fantasy as your average comic book.

Speaking of comic books, Malone (who previously directed the remake of House on Haunted Hill) gives Parasomnia a distinct visual look — partially inspired by comic books and the work of painter Zdzisław Beksiński. Using plenty of digital effects, skewed angles and judicious music video-style editing, Malone gives his film a visual style to match the plot’s fantastical elements. Towards the end of the film, the movie practically becomes a Nine Inch Nails music video — complete with petticoat-sporting girls playing string instruments and top hat wearing clown robots.

There are some good bits in Parasomnia. The plot, though a bit wonky at times, has a lot of potential. I’m a fan of epic, will-do-anything-for-you love stories and in that regard Parasomnia comes out swinging for the fences.

When Danny first rescues Laura from the hospital, the film is downright cute. Laura has spent the majority of her life asleep and safely behind the walls of the hospital. As she struggles to comprehend the real world, she acts like a scared puppy — even rolling around in the grass. While at first it seems kind of creepy that Danny would be so into her behavior (she’s practically acting like a toddler), Cherilyn Wilson works hard to sell her character’s naïveté until the situation returns to the adorableness Malone was shooting for.

Laura’s nightmare scenes likewise show a lot of missed potential. While the bizarre imagery is far more satisfying than anything Freddy Krueger could conjure up (some of it coming close to Tarsem Singh quality oddness), the dreams become slightly serious due to the overabundance of rubbery looking computer graphics. I realize the film was bound by its budget but I would have loved to have seen some of Malone’s visuals done practically. The CGI just isn’t able to pull of the creepiness it aspires to.

These scenes show the potential of the film. If done right, it could have straddled the line between gothic fairy tale and bloody slasher film — kind of like Freeway meets A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Unfortunately, the film is a bit too long and its excellent concept becomes lost in the muddled execution of the final product.  There’s too much going on in Parasomnia and unnecessary filler drags out the film to its breaking point.

By the time the film ends, audiences have become restless and any good will the two stars’ chemistry may have built is dust in the wind.

The film does feature an excellent (if underutilized) supporting cast that includes Jeffrey Combs, Timothy Bottoms, Sean Young and Alison Brie. Also look for a cameo by John Landis.

Parasomnia could have been a great film if William Malone had managed to tame his wild vision. The film can’t be accused of not trying — it puts its all into presenting an interesting concept but then proceeds to batter it about like an abused spouse. Malone’s flash-cut editing, while novel and interesting in 1999’s House on Haunted Hill has become a tired cliché and a relic of the past. By reigning in the film’s running time and trimming some of the more annoying MTV-stylized editing gimmicks, the film could have been a classic. Now, though, it’s a film that you may find yourself struggling not to fall asleep during.

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