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Film review: Russian torture porn ‘Sleepless Beauty’

Although Sleepless Beauty can be considered to rest firmly in the “torture porn” category, it’s not as excruciating or gory as the Saw films. As such, it falls between two posts.

A teacher, Mila (Polina Davydova), is kidnapped by unknown assailants and wakes up in the typical, dimly-lit basement where she is forced to undergo increasingly bizarre tests while she is deprived of sleep. As the days wear on, her hallucinations increase until she reaches the point that she is incapable of recognizing real life anymore.

The tortures are inflicted upon her by a brutish man who never speaks (Evgenly Gagarin), whose attacks include trapping her in a coffin filled with rats and assassinating an innocent victim so closely that the blood splatters all over her face. Always, a voice (Olivia Indik) calmly announces 1984-style over a loudspeaker the next test she must undergo.

Instead of sleeping, she must spend hours wearing a virtual-reality headset. All the while, she is continually observed by people watching her in a chatroom and making snarky comments.

Why is this happening to her? That’s the point of director Pavel Khvaleev and writer Aleksandra Khaleeva’s film. She’s being weaponized, for reasons that won’t be revealed here.

From a production standpoint, Sleepless Beauty looks great. Khvaleev’s cinematography sizzles, and the animations by Jakov Ivanusa bring back memories of the experimental animated work of the 1970s.

Unfortunately, there’s too much business going on between the onscreen torture and the the chatroom commentary. It’s too busy. And the English dubbing for the American version is ridiculous. The voices don’t even come close to the actors’ physical types.

Is it worth a look? Yes. Do we want to see more from Khvaleev and Khaleeva? Indeed.

Sleepless Beauty is now available on VOD. It will be released on DVD on Nov. 17.

Kurt Gardner

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