Sleepless Beauty Movie Review

Written by Joel Harley

Released by Monomania Films


Directed by Pavel Khvaleev
Written by Aleksandra Khvaleeva
2020, 74 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Grimmfest UK Premiere on 2nd April 2021

Polina Davydova as Mila
Evgeniy Gagarin as Man in black 
Olivia Indik as Newscaster
Sergey Topkov as Father


Kidnapped by a shadowy Dark Web organisation, teacher Mila (Polina Davydova) is locked up in a grotty basement and subjected to various physical and mental tortures. While the ins-and-outs of her ordeal oscillate between a somewhat mild episode of Fear Factor and a particularly mean-spirited Saw movie, sleep deprivation is the name of the game. And the movie. To what end? That’s not particularly important, but it makes its point effectively enough.

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The demand for harrowing torture movies may have died down since the subgenre’s heyday, but films of their ilk keep popping up (see also: Jens Dahl’s Breeder). Director Pavel Khvaleev manages to out-nasty much of what came before and after, without bringing a great deal of novelty to the table. Some of the technology is new (live-streaming, complete with all-too plausible commenters), but the game is the same. The film pulls few punches in its treatment of poor Mila – subjecting her to coffins full of rats, surgical procedures, a murderous pop quiz and obscene animated movies. The lack of explicit sexual violence is surprising, but the only reprieve viewers (and Mila) can expect. So complete is her physical and mental humiliation that the film's title becomes almost arbitrary. Why pick out the sleep deprivation element when that's just one aspect of Mila's ordeal?

sleepless beauty 03 sleepless beauty 04

Where Khvaleev’s low-budget Saw riff-off does shine – for want of a better word – is in its animated sequences, presented to Mila through VR headset. Part Monty Python, part Adult Swim animation from hell, these short movies depict masses of screaming genitalia, violated living orifices and screeching disembodied heads. The cartoons will stick with viewers far longer than any of the physical violence, which is brutal but repetitive. It’s hard to care about anything, though. We’re never given a chance to know Mila much beyond her job, fish and an abortion she (possibly) had a while ago. Is her kidnapping motivated by this? Khvaleev and screenwriter Aleksandra Khvaleeva don’t really go into it, nor does it seem to matter all that much. Other characters are just as thinly sketched – including the organisation’s muscle, an unintimidating mute guy in a balaclava. 

sleepless beauty 05 sleepless beauty 06

The film is at its best when it leans into its surrealist horror; disconnected nightmarish imagery, grotesque cartoons and tortures that don’t make sense. The effect is something akin to mainlining McKamey Manor walkthrough videos on YouTube – a harrowing, unpleasant experience, all sound and fury, signifying nothing. When it does join up to a larger plot, it’s too beholden to subgenre convention, ending on the same note as multiple Saw sequels.

Sleepless Beauty is an effective but slight work of torture-based horror. For all its nihilistic posturing, it’s about as deep as one of the 2D cartoons Mila is subjected to, and only half as unsettling.


Movie: 2.5 Star Rating Cover

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Joel Harley
Staff Reviewer
Haribo fiend, Nicolas Cage scholar and frequently functioning alcoholic. These are just some of the words which can be used to describe Joel Harley. The rest, he uses to write film criticism for Horror DNA and a variety of websites and magazines. Sometimes he manages to do so without swearing.
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