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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty Review

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty Review

"The Curse of Sleeping Beauty" is, in a word, beautiful. It's a multi-genre film that takes basic elements from the classic fairy tale and weaves them into a story about a haunted house, an ancient curse, and a young man who dreams each night of a captive maiden who waits for his kiss to awaken her from her enchanted sleep. In addition to being released as a film, "Beauty" was simultaneously conceived as a graphic novel, and the parallels between the mediums are easy to see: scenes are composed like paintings, with artful attention to symmetry and balance, and light and color are used very intentionally to accent story elements, or to evoke eerie or ethereal moods.

Equally noteworthy is "Beauty"'s sonorous score and striking sound design; the eerie chants and dissonant choral notes woven throughout help to immerse the viewer in the supernatural story while reinforcing the film's sensual aesthetics. The tale itself isn't particularly groundbreaking, but the production is lovely enough that the occasionally pedestrian story beats can be forgiven.

Thomas Kaiser (Ethan Peck) is an artist who's plagued by nightly visits to a disturbing dreamworld where he meets the beautiful Briar Rose (India Eisley).  She tells him that their fates are intertwined and that he must find her and awaken her from her enchanted sleep. He's startled from his latest dream by horrifying images of a demonic attack, but soon distraction arrives in the form of a message alerting him to an inheritance from an unknown uncle. It seems that Thomas is now the owner of a crumbling mansion with a sordid history, including the disappearance of numerous local citizens on its grounds.    

Thomas heads out to survey his new abode, and it's clear that "Beauty"'s set designers had a field day with the house. From the outside it has a decrepit gothic elegance, while the interior runs the gamut from abandoned rooms filled with dusty cobwebbed furniture and strange, artsy tableaux to dank subterranean chambers where Buffalo Bill from "Silence of the Lambs" would feel right at home.  Scattered throughout is a veritable army of broken down mannequins that start out merely creepy and evolve into the stuff of nightmares - and horror fans will enjoy a shiver of recognition at the dramatic homage to the groundbreaking horror video game and subsequent film series, "Silent Hill." Thomas' exploration is interrupted by Linda Coleman (Natalie Hall), a real estate agent with an ulterior motive: her brother disappeared in the house, and she's now "obsessed with the property."

Luckily for Thomas, Linda is able to fill in some of the house's backstory.  Equipped with that knowledge, a foreboding letter from Thomas's uncle, and the mysterious symptoms that begin to beset Thomas when he leaves the house and grounds, the pair realizes that Thomas has inherited a strange family curse along with his white elephant of a mansion. They puzzle over clues found in a sealed, coded tome inside the house, and eventually they're joined by Bruce Davison as a quirky paranormal investigator (is there any other kind?), and James Adam Lin who has fun with his small but attention-grabbing role as an arrogant, codebreaking tech whiz.

"Beauty" pulls threads from several different genres - fantasy, horror, and mystery/whodunit - to weave an entertaining tapestry that's a feast for the eyes as well as a fun exercise for the imagination. The film isn't self-contained; rather, it's intended to kick off a story series, so it answers some questions while raising much larger ones. We learn more about Thomas' past and his family's connection to the mysterious Briar Rose, and there's a cliffhanger in act three that manages to effectively shift and expand the storyline in a way that sets the table for future chapters without feeling too abrupt or unsatisfying.

Genre fans will enjoy seeing how "Beauty" alternately plays straight with and diverges from the Sleeping Beauty/Briar Rose mythos, and the film really is visually and aurally rewarding. If its creators can maintain the visual creativity while upping the game a bit on the story front, future chapters of "The Curse of Sleeping Beauty" will be worth keeping an eye on.  Until then, the film is certainly worth a look.

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