The Other Side of Sleep Review
A slow-paced, atmospheric murder-mystery that's not obvious about revealing its intentions, making regular connections or leaving any immediate clues, you could find it difficult enough to figure out where The Other Side of Sleep is going, so whatever you do, if you don't want to make it harder for yourself, don't at least miss the first two minutes. Not that it will make things any less confusing initially, but it reveals an important characteristic about the film's main character that is vital to what subsequently develops.
In those first two minutes you will be introduced to Arlene in a rather startling way. Arlene (Antonia Campbell Hughes) wakes up in a forest, covered in blood and scratches, lying beside another young girl who appears to have been tied-up and murdered. Arlene's problem is that she sleepwalks and has no recollection of anything that happens during these episodes. It isn't any easier for the viewer to find out what happened either since The Other Side of Sleep doesn't follow the typical route to resolution of the murder mystery through the usual technique of gradually revealed flashbacks that piece it all together, but rather it observes everything that follows from the subjective viewpoint of Arlene's unique and troubled perspective of the world.
A young woman, introverted, working in a factory in a remote Irish country town, Arlene doesn't have any close friends she can confide in and seems to live largely in her own world - a world that is filled with darkness and uncertainty and seems to be gradually crashing down around her. Her fears about her situation are heightened by - or perhaps reflected in - the environment around her. Living alone in a small room she rents, making her way down dark country roads after work, following paths through woods, the film creates a highly charged and atmospheric environment that suggests death, fear, uncertainty, and one or two other unsettling elements as well.
Evidently however, if you haven't missed the first two minutes, the most significant factor is that there's a dead woman, Gina, who has been found in the woods, there are cuts on Arlene's fingers and a black hole in her memory that connect her to this incident (although neither she nor the viewer can trust anything that happens after dark), but there are other significant factors that add ambiguity to the matter. There are a number of potentially dangerous males that, from Arlene's perspective at least, seem to have some predatory intent, but there's also an event alluded to in Arlene's past, specifically in connection with her mother's death some years ago and related to a missing bracelet, that suggests that there are other complex issues going on with Arlene. As Arlene befriends the murdered girl's sister and Gina's former boyfriend, one can't be sure then of Arlene's motives. Does she identify with the dead girl in some way, is she trying to work out the connection between them, or is there something more sinister going on?
Many of these issues are indeed resolved to some extent, but not in any conventional way. Rather The Other Side of Sleep uses them to explore some rather more interesting avenues in relation to grief and guilt. Highly atmospheric, the film is not quite as experimental as the woman-in-trouble subjective viewpoint used by David Lynch, nor is it as philosophical or spiritual in the nature of its relationship between the individual and their environment as Bruno Dumont's work, but with its small community provincial setting, Rebecca Daly's film lies - so to speak - in the same field. There is very little use of music and no great amount of dialogue, but the filmmaker makes striking use of the sound design to enhance the ambience of the external environment, using silence, darkness and light to haunting effect to suggest the duality of Arlene's inner conflict between her waking and sleeping consciousness and ties it effectively to considerations of good and evil in nature.
The film relies to a great extent on then on presenting events from Arlene's perspective, since the young woman is present in just about every single scene. It's vital therefore that the casting is just right and fortunately Antonia Campbell Hughes maintains a strong presence. The young actress remains mainly blank-faced throughout, giving little away, but still manages to convey a sense of growing disquiet and a great deal more going on beneath the surface. It's what is going on beneath the surface that the film is very much concerned with, and Arlene and The Other Side of Sleep takes us to some very dark places indeed.