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'Before I Go to Sleep' Review: A Narcoleptic Thriller

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | October 31, 2014 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | October 31, 2014 |

Before I Go to Sleep is the worst sort of bad movie: one that takes itself ludicrously seriously even while being profoundly boring. The trailers finished and the opening scene started at 7:22 pm on Thursday evening. The screen went black for the credits at 8:44 pm. Its actual runtime is only an hour and twenty-two minutes and it really could have lost half an hour of that by just trimming the fat. It is difficult to articulate just how empty of events this movie was other than pointing out that it was basically an hour of television stretched interminably.

On the bright side, it was a lot like watching a television show since I had the theater to myself. On opening night. Again. At this rate, they’re going to have to start charging $800 per soda just to keep the doors open.

The film starts with Nicole Kidman waking up with no memory. Mr. Darcy explains that he’s her husband and that she wakes up like this every day. There are photo albums, a routine, and then he leaves to go to work. Of course all is not as it seems, because otherwise it wouldn’t be a movie. A neuroscientist calls, says he’s been working with her for a while, every day, and that the fact he’s played by Mark Strong shouldn’t imply he’s a bad guy. He fills her in on details that her husband left out, like the fact that she lost her memory after being brutally attacked not after a car accident. Basically Memento knocked up Sleeping with the Enemy and left the baby movie to be raised by a screenwriter with aspirations of Hitchcock and the talents of the freelancer who fills in the midseason episodes of mediocre procedurals.

The movie is vaguely tolerable for the first half hour or so as the mystery holds up, and there is genuine questioning over who exactly is telling the truth and whether her husband is really on the up and up. Then it starts to collapse as bits start to be revealed and the nonsensical plot mounts. And in that same spirit of mediocrity, the plot holes aren’t even the laughably hilarious of a really bad movie, just those mundane ones that torpedo any ability to set aside disbelief.

The root of the story’s problem is that it’s very clear from the start that the movie only has two basic outcomes. Either the neuroscientist is the bad guy or the husband is. But by insisting on having tension between those two outcomes, the story handcuffs itself from going anywhere too creepy, because while Kidman’s character wouldn’t remember, we would. So it has to content itself with not actually having anything particularly bad or strange happen, because then the tension would deflate. Which is exactly what does happen when the reveal lands.

See, the terror of the situation lies in uncertainty, of not knowing what someone may or may not have done to you the day before. And there could have been a truly horrifying movie made of this conceit, where we see her live through hell and wake up every day reseting. But by focusing on the mystery of the bad guy, the film has to ensure that nothing bad actually happens, which means that even though Kidman’s character is freaked out, we’re bored because we know that nothing bad happened to her the day before.

There’s a twist, to be sure, but it’s not particularly interesting, and simply adds a little texture to one of the two outcomes. It certainly doesn’t make everything earlier in the film snap into focus though, which is what good twists are meant to do.

Finally, everyone in the film uses old Nokia brick phones from the early aughts, even though it’s made clear that the film is contemporaneous due to dates referenced and such. Really I found that a more interesting mystery than the central one of who beat who and why.

Before I Go to Sleep isn’t worth watching. It’s not good enough to entertain and it’s not bad enough to spark conversation.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.