The Sleep Experiment Poster

The Sleep Experiment (2022) Review

Opening with a claim to be based on actual events, writer/director John Farrelly’s The Sleep Experiment is actually based on the Creepypasta The Russian Sleep Experiment, with the setting changed to Ireland during the Cold War and the present day.

The film’s opening images are ominous, starting with a vehicle driving through the darkness. An armed guard in protective gear waits outside a featureless building. Sterile white corridors lined with control panels. Hooded men being led down a dark staircase before being hosed down and locked in a room.

The men are prisoners held on national security charges, Luke (Will Murphy), Patrick (Sam McGovern, Zig and Zag, The Queen v Patrick O’Donnell), Edward (Rob James Capel, Pooka), Sean (Brian Moore, Election 18, Guy At The Bar), and Eric (Steven Jess, Winifred Meeks, Mug Face).

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They’ve been brought to a secret research facility, Porton Down, to take part in what is ironically called the sleep experiment. Placed in a sealed chamber, they’ll be subjected to a stimulant gas in order to keep them awake for thirty days while the effects are monitored. If they complete the experiment, they’ll be given their freedom.

In the present two detectives, David (Anthony Murphy, The Canal, Dawn of the Dragonslayer) and Robert Scott (Barry John Kinsella, The Black Guelph, Dublin Crust) are interviewing Christopher (Tom Kerrisk, Christmas at Castle Hart, Different) about his involvement with the experiment. These scenes provide a framework for the story, much more so than the somewhat arbitrary chapters it’s divided into.

Despite its charged opening, The Sleep Experiment is a slow burn of a film, spending a fair amount of time getting inside the men’s heads, letting us get to know them so we can see the changes in their personalities as the experiment progresses. And as anyone who’s spent time in a sleep-deprived state knows, those changes can be severe.

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And those changes are the focus of much of The Sleep Experiment’s running time. The group is quite varied in their personalities to start with, ranging from Luke who’s a manipulative psychopath to the timid Eric. Watching them initially feels more like a drama than a thriller or horror film, gradually becoming more disturbing as the effects of the experiment take hold.

“I also find the concept of nature vs nurture fascinating. Is a person born bad or does the struggles of life do that to someone? Are we all just victims of victims? I wanted to explore this film by showing the hypocrisy of the experiment. The rich, upper class and educated researchers are the ones committing far worse crimes on these ‘criminals’ than the criminals ever committed.”

John Farrelly

What is chilling almost from the start is Tom Kerrisk’s performance. Seeing him sitting there defending the sleep experiment as well as other research performed at the facility as “we were just doing our jobs” and “a lot of good came from it” is chilling. Especially after it’s revealed nine men died during the experiment. This also raised my interest since there were only five test subjects.

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Farrelly adds a few other complications to the plot, both in the past and present, as The Sleep Experiment progresses. Not all of them work, and viewers will be expecting at least one of them. But enough work that by the time the test subjects begin hallucinating, scenes begin to take on a nightmarish effect, moving into psychological horror territory before moving fully into physical horror in the final act.

The Sleep Experiment takes advantage of its limited sets, creating a sense of claustrophobia and of being trapped in the chamber with the men were most of the film takes place. While that’s broken to a degree when it cuts to the present day, most of those scenes are in a cramped interrogation room, which helps retain that feeling. Even the final scenes, which move away from both, are in dark, cramped locations, continuing the oppressive feeling that’s built up.

While I was a little let down by its final reveal, it’s fairly obvious to most of the film, The Sleep Experiment did what it was intended to do, get under my skin. It’s not an overly frightening film, Farrelly is more interested in disturbing viewers than making them jump. And he does a damn good job of it.

Red Water Entertainment will release The Sleep Experiment to VOD and Digital platforms in the US and Canada on November 1st. And if you’re looking for something similar, FilmTagger can offer some suggestions.

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