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Katherine Waterston wanders through the mysterious “State Like Sleep”

There’s no wrong way to grieve. How one deals with the loss of a loved one is a deeply unique situation. Whatever path someone takes, that’s what is right for them. Unfortunately, the same can not be said about films dealing with grief. When done right, they’re devastatingly powerful. When done wrong, you just can’t feel for the protagonist’s plight and have no connection. In the case of State Like Sleep, the movie wavers back and forth between both sides of the coin. In the end, poor pacing and too slow a buildup ultimately sabotage a potentially affecting piece of work.

The movie is a drama laden with mystery/noir elements. Set a year after the death of her actor husband Stefan Delvoe (Michiel Huisman), Katherine (Katherine Waterston) is still trying to make sense of it all. When she gets a phone call that sends her to Brussels to investigate his life, Katherine is forced to not only confront and deal with her grief, but also ends up finding things out about her husband’s last days on Earth. At the same time, she’s dealing with her mother Elaine (Mary Kay Place) and her failing health, along with a man named Edward (Michael Shannon) at her hotel who she’s oddly drawn to. Flashbacks to her time with Stefan fill in some blanks, but mostly we watch her navigate the confusion she feels in the present. Meredith Danluck writes and directs, while the supporting cast includes Luke Evans, Bo Martyn, Rachel Wilson, and more. Jeff McIlwain and David Wingo composed the score, while Christopher Blauvelt handled the cinematography.

Katherine Waterston admittedly shines here in State Like Sleep. Michael Shannon is very solid as well, playing a bit against type. Waterston’s refusal to go big serves the film well. Melodrama isn’t necessary, just emotion. Her quiet depression and grief is effectively depicted. Shannon is arguably the most normal person in the movie, which is unusual. It works though. The acting isn’t why this ends up falling short. It’s just a matter of the material not grabbing your attention, even when the performances do. One could certainly argue that a cast like this deserved something better. Any scene that features both Shannon and Waterston is a solid one. The rest of the film is just too inconsistent to recommend.

What sinks the ship here is that the mystery and noir aspects are so unnecessary and so lackluster that they really bug you. Even if you’re really thrilled by the acting, the way that the investigation by Katherine into what exactly happened to Stefan never goes anywhere. Worse, it ends in a deeply unsatisfying way. Had Danluck just opted to focus on Katherine’s grief and let Waterston work it all out on screen, that would have been a more effective movie. Hell, let it be about Katherine and Edward. The more that Shannon and Waterston are together, the better this was. As it stands, there’s just not quite enough here.

This week, State Like Sleep offers up a low key start to the 2019 independent film year. The movie is a bit lacking and isn’t something I can recommend, but it’s hardly a poor offering. Especially for January, it’s nothing to turn your nose up at. This played last year at the Tribeca Film Festival and is only coming out now this Friday. It’s the right time to open up something with limited appeal like this, but it doesn’t quite deserve to be lumped in with the January dumping ground releases. I’m not recommending this flick, but trust me when I say that you can do worse…

State Like Sleep begins its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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