Just in time for Thanksgiving, it’s your yearly “hell is family members” film. However, The Sleepwalker distinguishes itself from most entries in this angst-ridden genre by way of superb writing, smoldering performances, and hauntingly beautiful imagery from first-time director Mona Fastvold.
Kaia (Gitte Witt) and boyfriend Andrew (Christopher Abbott) are in the midst of renovating her father’s remote, fire-destroyed house when half-sister Christine (Stephanie Ellis) suddenly reappears after a long absence. The two sisters awkwardly attempt to reconnect, an effort complicated by Christine’s erratic behavior (her new pregnancy prevents her from taking her usual meds) and her wealthy, U.N. human rights officer beau, Ira (Brady Corbet).
Like any crazy girl who’s managed to land the perfect man, Christine knows exactly which buttons to push, and her constant harping on events from the past destabilizes each relationship over the next few days. Meanwhile, who has claim on the house — Kaia and her version of events or Christine and her confused memories — also gets tossed up into the air.
While many actors who move into screenwriting and then dare to cast themselves in the finished project end up being lackluster in either effort, Corbet shines as a bro’d-out golden boy. Neither glamorous nor showy, his verbal tics — such as concluding every address to his girlfriend with a diphthongal “babe”— become painfully conventional in this rural, fucked-up world he’s stumbled into.
Likewise, Witt’s sweet face contorts with masterful control at every unhealed wound her half-sister picks at. Fastvold’s inventive approach to framing, especially during one exceptionally awkward family dinner, magnifies all of the slights that are all too familiar for those with dysfunctional families.