Director – Michael Walker
Cast – Jeff Daniels, Emily Bergl, Gil Bellows, Zach Grenier, Julian McMahon, Ben Shenkman, Molly Price, Patrick Moug
Release Year – 2000
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This film intrigued me solely because it starred Jeff Daniels, who I never really expected to star in a horror film. It has been 10 years since this film’s debut, and I had yet to hear of this film before watching it recently, and I must say that while I can see why this film is the sleeper that it is, it definitely deserves more credit than it has been given. With a slow and very atmospheric premise, Chasing Sleep carries a unique story sure to please those looking for some good psychological horror.
Professor Ed Saxon(Jeff Daniels) awakens late one night and notices that his wife has yet to come home from work. Only a few hours have passed since her usual arrival time, but she is never late without calling, so Ed alerts the authorities. Det. Derm(Gil Bellows) is assigned to Ed’s case, but despite Derm’s initial help Ed begins to wonder if Derm is really out to help him, or out to pin his wife’s disappearance, and possible murder…on him. There is no evidence linking Ed to his wife’s disappearance, aside from the fact that he knows he did not kill her…or did he?
If you enjoy psychological horror films then this film should give you what you are looking for. Writer/director Michael Walker did a great job putting this film together, and I am quite surprised to learn that to this day Chasing Sleep remains his only full-length film. In a sense I can see why this has occurred, and that is because Chasing Sleep is not a film for the masses, nor will its style ever be a profitable one. Nonetheless, Walker’s execution should be enough to get him more directing jobs, but sadly that is not always what matters in the film industry.
The storyline comes off fairly simple as a whole, but be forewarned: if you have not had a full night’s rest you may not make it through the film in one showing. Walker takes his time with this flick and brings us lots of development throughout the vast majority of the film, something that did not surprise me given the type of psychological thriller this is. From the get-go we are thrown into the dark world that Ed Saxon lives in, with him never fully sure of what is going on with his wife’s disappearance. His troubles understanding her disappearance are horrific in nature, as he is hopeful of her return, but soon realizes that his marriage was not only in shams…but that he cannot account for his whereabouts the night of her disappearance. He is in the dark over what has happened, and we are left in the dark for most of the film as well, which I enjoyed because it left me to feel as helpless as Ed was. The pacing is slow, but we get a few good twists and turns here and there to help move the story, including some truly horrific scenes in the latter half of the film. This is definitely a story-driven watch, and the story is good.
Because this is such a slow film there must be great execution to sell the film to the viewer, and Michael Walker does a fine job executing the film to screen. We are given a fantastic home in which about 95% of the film takes place, which comes with a nice dark and gloomy atmosphere, very reminiscent of the life Ed is living. To make matters cooler, the home is slowly deteriorating due to a water leak, which is also symbolic of many things, including the decay of Ed’s psyche, as well as the feeling of drowning as the film progresses and he finds more and more evidence leading him to believe that he is his wife’s killer. Jeff Daniels’ performance as Ed is fantastic, and he proves that despite the sillier roles that he is known for (Dumb and Dumber) he is a damn good actor. In a film like this there is much required from the lead protagonist, and that is not just from his actual acting performance, but from the fact that he is in every scene of the film, which requires a lot of physical ability from the actor. Jeff Daniels proved to be a fantastic casting choice for this role, and while there are very few other major characters in the film we did get good performances from all of those who were involved. The film lacks gore, blood, and numerous kills, but we do get some good horror thrown in here and there, including once scene that I will never forget. I will not go too much into spoilers, but the baby-in-the-bathtub scene has to be one of the greatest scare sequences that I have ever seen. Congratulations Michael Walker.
Overall, this is a good psychological horror film that gives us a great story and comes with good execution. The film is slow, but numerous twists and turns aid the pacing and keep things interesting for the viewer. I recommend this film to those of you looking for a good atmospheric film dwelling on internal horror, and watch out for that baby in the bathtub.