INTERIOR: A dark hallway, the camera tracks into a bedroom where a little boy is having a nightmare.
The title “Thirteen years ago” appears on the screen.
The little boy imagines himself in what looks like a graveyard, macabre figures greet him, direct him and then threaten him.
CUT TO: Interior, a shrink’s office. Zach, an expressionless child actor whom we’ll spare calling out on his limited future in films, has to listen to a smug psychotherapist (Cary Elwes) diagnose what ails him. Repeated bad dreams? I have the answer!
CUT TO: Back home, where the boy, and then his mother, realize just how off the mark Dr. Feelgood was. The kid is speaking with a demonic growl.
“Don’t Speak” is a drab indie horror tale earning release thanks to a director whose next credit (as a producer) is the “Flatliners” remake. Rick Bieber’s achingly slow story is about the horrors of young Zach’s past assaulting him and all those around him in the present day.
Demons stalk, haunt and attack. Neighbors are sexually assaulted and go mad.
But law student Zach (Dominic Sherwood of TV’s “Shadowhunters”) and his art teacher girlfriend Shawn (Charlbi Dean Kriek of “Death Race: Inferno”) don’t know that as they move in together.
Nor do their neighbors/landlords (Drea de Matteo, Alex Carter), or elderly Poppy (the late Alex Rocco) who lives with them.
But cowled figures turn up — in darkened closets, in rear-view mirrors. Zach starts to wonder what mom (Jill Hennesy) and that long-ago therapist never told him.
As do we.
Shawn isn’t buying it — “You seem a little delicate these days.”
But Jo, the neighbor (de Matteo of “The Sopranos”) is the first to catch on.
“It’s a CURSE! A curse has come into our home!”
Well, OK. The movie’s pretty uncertain about that, though truthfully, the slack pacing and generally uninspired acting kind of dulled my sense of “What’s REALLY going on here?”
Not that plot much matters.
The South African beauty Kriek made her own deal with the Devil, or in this case, Bieber. She disrobes three times, but gets one moving speech and relationship-saving scene.
You want to see good screen acting? Watch Rocco, in his last screen performance (this was shot more than two years ago), bring pathos to an old man who loses his beloved dog, menace when that old man turns demonic. He’s animated in every scene, giving us something to cling to every time he’s on screen.
Otherwise, there’s nothing here to pull us in, no one to root for/fear for. Whatever Bieber’s gifts to the cinema as a producer — and his name was all over that abortion “Radio Flyer” — here, he’s working by formula, attempting straight exploitation.
And he doesn’t have the knack. “Don’t Sleep” is heartless, fright-free and, yes — sleep-inducing.
MPAA Rating: unrated, horror violence, some nudity, sex scenes
Cast: Dominic Sherwood, Charlbi Dean Kriek, Drea de Matteo, Alex Rocco, Jill Hennesy and Cary Elwes
Credits: Written and directed by Rick Bieber. A Freestyle release.
Running time: 1:35