What a dreadful bore “The Sleep Experiment” turns out to be.
A period piece thriller about a sleep deprivation study in Britain’s Porton Down government science park, it’s old fashioned and corny, bloody and — like life itself in more primitive times — “nasty, brutish and short.”
Writer-director John Farrelly takes a bit of lore about the secretive location and cooks up a tale of inmates recruited to go 30 days without sleep for a study tailor-made for disaster. Years later, a couple of cops (Barry John Kinsella and Anthony Murphy) talk the scientist in charge (Tom Kerrisk) to come in for “an interview” that will be, of course, an interrogation.
Tricky coppers. But the good doctor is a pyschologist and his “motives” were good. “Unethical” or not, pointless (my first thought) or not, these five “human guinea pigs” are locked up in a cell with books, food, a single toilet and a solitary sink.
These “volunteers,” who stood to have their sentences suspended, are an odd mix of “types” — the bullying Sean (Brian Moore), the “fish out of water” Eric (Steven Jess), the snide, canny and secretive Luke (Will Murphy), harder-to-pin down Patrick (Sam McGovern) and most dutiful diary keeper, the hulking elder of their ranks, Edward (Robert James Capel).
The idea is that we watch them meet, size each other up and crack up over time as they’re given orders via PA system — “Exercise begins now!” — manipulated in other ways, gassed with something that keeps them awake and monitored through a two-way mirror.
Farrelly fails to build suspense and tension in this ready-made pressure cooker situation. He turns the interrogation of the scientist in charge into something that the occasional threat and bit of shouting does nothing to animate the film. A couple of the characters are almost interesting, made somewhat less so by the perfunctory back stories given them.
The “explain it all” finale plays like something out of a 1940s B-movie.
And on and on it drones, with bloody meltdowns, inane crackups and flashes of savagery that never engage the viewer or come close to having a point.
Rating: unrated, bloody violence profanity
Cast: Brian Moore, Robert James Capel, Steven Jess, Sam McGovern, Will Murphy, Tom Kerrisk, Anthony Murphy and Barry John Kinsella
Credits: Scripted and directed by John Farrelly. A Red Water Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:21