Title: Parasomnia (2010)
Director/ Writer: William Malone
Cast: Patrick Kilpatrick, Jeffrey Combs
There is something about movies dealing with dream logic and nightmares: they lend themselves perfectly for a horror film. I think it’s the notion that anything, no matter how outlandish or crazy can happen within the realm of a dream. Usually, when things are happy in a dream, that happiness can reach almost unrealistically heights of bliss. Sadly, the same intensity goes for bad dreams. For when something bad things happens in dreams, suddenly we find ourselves right smack in the middle of a full blown nightmare. And then, who the hell knows just where our minds will take us? This is the notion that William Malaone’s Parasomnia plays with.
Laura's dreamworld isnt a pretty place!
The film tells the story of Laura Baxter, a young girl who suffers from a sleeping disorder called Parasomnia. This is a condition that causes the person who suffers from it to practically sleep their lives away, waking up only briefly on sporadic occasions. Laura sleeps on her hospital bed as life slips by her unnoticed, like a modern day Sleeping Beauty. Meanwhile, Danny Sloan (an art student) is in the same hospital visiting a friend of his. While there, he sees Laura sleeping profoundly on her hospital bed. He is instantly mesmerized by her beauty and immediately falls for her. Problem is, the patient next door, a mad man whose hypnotic abilities have marked him as a danger to society has other plans for her. “She is mine!” he screams from the padded room across the hall. What does he mean by this? And will Laura ever wake from her sleep?
I love films that deal with dream logic because in the dream world, anything goes. And when it comes to horrifying images, well, the dream world offers a filmmaker the opportunity to turn up the volume as far as freakishness goes. On Parasomnia, director William Malone was inspired by the work of Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski. One look at this artist’s gallery of paintings and computer generated artwork and one can instantly see his influence on the visual outlook of Malone’s film. That dark, surrealistic and downright nightmarish visual language that Parasomnia offers obviously stems in part from this artists body of work; which is fantastic for a film dealing with the dark dream world in which Laura spends most of her time in. The images that Malone conjured up in Laura’s dream sequences are one of the highlights of the film. The images consist of lonely landscapes filled with dark clouds and giant revolving mirrors, very unique and unsettling.
This piece of Polish art from artist Zdzislaw Beksinski, allows us to see the films visual influences
Parasomnia has similarities with a couple of films, some of the are: The Cell (2000), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Lord of Illusions (1995). It is similar to The Cell in the sense that the film spends a lot of its time inside of Laura’s dream landscape. She is a prisoner of her own mind. She sleeps and she cant wake up, and everything is made worse when we learn that the madman known as Byron Volpe is tormenting her in her dreams, kind of like a more threatening and evil version of Freddy Krueger. I don’t think its a coincidence that the actor who plays Byron Volpe (Patrick Kilpatrick) is the same actor who played the villain in The Cell. Parasomnia and The Cell are movies dealing with the same kind of structure and themes. On Parasomnia Patrick Kilpatrick plays Byron Volpe, a villain whose hypnotic powers are so strong, they have to put a bag over his head so no one will make eye contact with him. He has to be restrained in a padded cell with a gag over his mouth because one word out of his mouth, one look into his eyes could send you into a chain of events leading to your death. I thought this was an awesome villain, extremely formidable. He is powerful even when under restraints! It brought to my mind the villain in Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions, yet another film in which the villain has extremely powerful mind controlling abilities.
Thematically speaking Parasomnia speaks about the dangers of handing ones mind over to a madman selling dark dreams and lies. Illusions that can enter our minds and render us powerless, like Laura sleeping in her hospital bed unable to do anything about her life. In Lord of Illusions, Nix (the films villain) is a religious leader who controls the minds of his followers and lies to them in order to use them for his own dark purposes the same way Byron Volpe does on this film. In Parasomnia, the villains’ powers reside in the words he uses which alludes to the power of words and ideas and how they can enter our minds to paint of a landscape of what is “the truth”. The right words and ideas can manipulate our view of the world, and twist it, taking it far away from reality or truth. A good speaker can make us think and do horrible things, much like Hitler did in his day, much like many religious leaders have done as well. I found it extremely interesting that the person who comes to save Laura from her dark sleep is an artist. Usually, in films (and in real life as well) artists are liberals who don’t subscribe to any religious or political point of view. I think this is one of the messages that the film is trying to put across. The idea that art can set us free from mental slavery. The idea that through the exploration of our feelings and the expression of our inner self through art we can really get to know ourselves, who we really are instead of being who others want us to be. I definitely enjoyed the films themes in this sense.
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari anyone?
But by far, Parasomnia’s biggest attraction are its images. There are long passages in the film where not a word is spoken, where we are simply meant to dive into the dark world that Malone has created which feels like a mix of something that Clive Barker and Tim Burton might have cooked up after watching the German expressionism film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Speaking of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Parasomnia also has some similarities with that film, especially when we see that both films deal with a powerful hypnotist who controls a somnambulist and makes it do his bidding, in fact, at one moment, the villain places Laura inside of a coffin, same as Dr. Caligari does with his sonambulist. The grand finale of the film falls within the realm of the campy and the theatrical, resembling something out of The Abominable Mr. Phibes (1971). Parasomnia is a visually interesting film, Malone brings back that sort of dark gothic imagery he showed us in House on Haunted Hill (1999) where images seemed to be in fast forward at times, resembling something out of Adrianne Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder (1990). The whole film is like one long dark dream, interlaced with a psychological thriller. Recommend it if you are in the mood for a film with a strong stylistic and visual sense.
Rating: 3 out of 5