Many of Britain’s seaside towns and resorts have not adjusted well to the changes wrought to travel and holidays in recent years. Places that at their heights were great, bustling places ideal for a day out have fallen into a decay as a result of a trip to the continent replacing a trip to the surf. Many are still doing fine, but are something of shells of their former selves, especially outside of summer and the high season. As such, that air of malaise is something that can be great for setting the mood for a horror film, something that The Sleeping Room seeks to capture. However, while it does indeed have plenty of gritty atmosphere to it, that’s pretty much the only thing the film has in its favour.
In Brighton, call girl Blue (Leila Mimmack) meets a new client, Bill (Joseph Beattie). He’s currently employed to convert a terraced house into a new hotel, with the interesting aspect that it once served as a Victorian brothel. While there, she helps him discover a hidden room within the building, a “sleeping room” from when the place was still in trade. There’s more within it; hints that it has a connection to her family, something that has haunted her since the violent death of her mother. Blue feels compelled to dig deeper into the history of the place, and its original owner. A dangerous task, not just down to her violent pimp, but another secret within the room.
Now this seedy subject matter is already good at establishing the fact that the main characters in this story are in no way safe; that Blue is at the mercy of more than one force that sees her as a means to an end. Her central fight to establish control over her life, break free of the things overshadowing her, is a strong central story. The location too is a major plus (the whole film is shot on location in Brighton). The grey streets and skies, the squalid urban locales, the shots of the burned remnants of the old pier, all give a strong sense of a town that feels very claustrophobic even with an expansive sea front in clear view. The titular location is pretty memorable, with some of the Victoriana in the area used to full effect, including an old set of mutoscope reels.
Unfortunately, all this comes fairly early on; after setting up the atmosphere, and a reason for Blue to be involved in the mystery, the film rather spectacularly fails to live up to its promise. It falls into a lot of meandering around, gathering random bits of exposition that never really gel into anything that interesting. The mystery at the heart of the story ends up pretty uninteresting, with a lot of the key points spelled out early on that turn out to be pretty much correct, nothing else turns up, no twists or anything to give the revelations impact. Also, while one character’s secret agenda might have been a good shock (and to give credit, does lead to some creepy visuals), it’s a little too obvious what’s coming from early on. This can work to build tension, in a “the protagonist doesn’t know the danger they’re in”, but to do that well, you have to be up front about what’s really going on, not still aiming for a big reveal. As for the scares, there’s little here you haven’t seen before, little of the creeping dread you need to one of these stories. In fact, at least one scare scene that comes close to working really well ends up falling apart due to the wrong decision to show one expression of (what’s supposed to be) horror, rather than leave it off screen.
The whole thing ends in a pretty unsatisfactory ending, which leaves you unsure what the last second twist supposed to be. It’s a shame, because the set-up is pretty strong, but it all just descends into a lot of shouting in typical British gangster accents. The other main problem is that there’s little real relief to be found; it’s grey and miserable throughout, with little respite. It says a lot that the only location in the whole story with some real colour to it is the titular room, and that’s poorly lit most of the time. In fact, the scene where it’s lit best is in grainy black & white. It all leads to a joyless experience that has no real pay-off, no lessons learned, accomplishment. The Sleeping Room has plenty of good elements for a classic ghost story, including an ideal location, but they aren’t put together well. Not recommended.