“State Like Sleep” is a murder mystery without a lot of mystery to it, perhaps without even a “murder.”
It’s a moody but somewhat empty and frustrating character study set mostly in Belgium in the aftermath of a rising film star’s sad suicide.
Or was it? A suicide, I mean?
Stefan (Michiel Huisman of “Game of Thrones”) has just landed his big “franchise” break. He liked his coke and heroin. He might have been cheating on his wife, which had him depressed because she was moving out. His childhood friend (Luke Evans) is being awfully cagey about the death. His mother (Hélène Cardona) see-saws between blaming his wife and venting about her need for his money.
And it took two shots from his gun to kill him.
That’s piques the curiosity of his widow, played with a poker-faced grief by Katherine Waterston of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Alien: Covenant” and “Logan Lucky.” Not right away, though. She has to work up the desire to care. As do we.
Katherine the widow is gutted, in denial. A year has passed and she’s thrown herself into her fashion photography, not dealing with Stefan’s death or the detritus of the life they had together.
Her mother (Mary Kay Place) has flown to Belgium to tidy this up with Stefan’s mother Anika. But she has “a minuscule stroke,” and that forces Katherine to return to the scene of the tragedy, to face the callous box of personal effects the police left for her, effects which include the gun that killed him.
Katherine must also face Anika’s rage — “This is YOUR mess!” — her own guilt, underlined by memories of the police interrogation, her certainty that she caused Stefan’s shame spiral. But she develops vague suspicions about the club owner “We were friends from childhood, you know” Emile (Evans) and the creepy American (Michael Shannon) who drinks, picks up women and hits on her in the hotel they’re both staying in and seems always under foot.
Writer-director Meredith Danluck (“The Ride”) waters down the tension, the grief, pretty much every emotion demanded here, by spreading her story between the fictive present — a year after Stefan’s death — and flashbacks to the day he died. Throw in Katherine’s trips to check on Belgian medicine’s treatment of her hospitalized (and comatose) mother, and you’ve got a story that never gets up enough steam to draw us in.
Katherine finds herself photographing the mysterious American, repulsed by him (he appears to be hiring hookers) and yet…determined to have sex with him.
Perhaps her Belgian bar pick-up who turns out to have a “thing” for baths, women in those baths, women covered in bubbles and women who need to have their hair scrubbed, is what sends her over the edge.
“Could you plizz make your hair vet?”
As Katherine asks questions edgy, mysterious Emile, Emile’s eager-to-please-anyone and everyone lady friend (Bo Martyn), Anika and the cops, she remembers her own actions the day of the death and recoils in horror from the police who won’t hear her new “theories” out.
“We all have a responsibility to protect his image.”
Considering the cocaine and heroin that gets passed around, Katherine’s half-hearted pursuit of “the REAL killer” in between snorts and bar pick-ups, “image” is not something anybody in Belgium would appear to be that concerned with.
Waterston doesn’t show us much here that makes us connect with the character. Shannon plays another version of his oft-evident off-putting intensity. Why wouldn’t she be frightened of him rather than attracted to him?
Evans gives Emile a bisexual bend that makes his the most interesting character, the most inscrutable, and the most disappointingly under-developed — after Wasterton’s Katherine.
I’d say writer-director Danluck’s story unravels entirely too easily, but that’s crediting her with “raveling” that she never quite gets around to.
“State Like Sleep” is how Katherine wanders through her story, and without more narrative drive, suspense and pace, that describes the viewer’s reaction to the the film as well, unfortunately.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, violence, sexual situations, drug abuse, profanity
Cast: Katherine Waterston, Michael Shannon, Luke Evans, Mary Kay Place, Hélène Cardona, Michiel Huisman
Credits: Written and directed by Meredith Danluck. An Orchard release.
Running time: 1:45