The girls of Alpha Gamma Theta are throwing a party for themselves and their would-be pledges - unfortunately for them, the party brings out a killer whose been hiding in the shadows. After making threatening and terrifying phone calls to let these girls know they will be going to sleep, the killer makes good on his word and picks them off one by one. Which one of these ladies will be the next one to go to sleep…forever?
I admit it, I bought into the hype surrounding Justin Russell's independent feature and 80's slasher throwback "The Sleeper". The trailer showed promise of competent cinematography, possibility of a great atmosphere, a not-so-on-the-nose 80's nostalgia tone and an overall honest to goodness back to basics slasher. So yes, after the trailers and hearing good things from close friends I was definitely interested.
"The Sleeper" is very reminiscent of a number of slasher films that came out in the 80's: "The House on Sorority Row", "The Prowler" and even a very tiny bit "Slumber Party Massacre" (only not as stupid and gratuitous - and I say that with love). Even some love is throw to 70's slashers, like "Black Christmas" as well. The influence from these films are a bit more obvious, some more so than others. The creepy phone calls these young women receive will certainly ring a familiar bell. Justin was clearly wearing his vintage-slasher fandom on his sleeve with this movie since it doesn't try to hide anything.
That maybe where my problem with it was. I have absolutely come to hate throwbacks anymore - people aren't paying homages like they think they are, rather they are creating parodies on cliches. I watch horror movies strictly for entertainment purposes; I'm not looking for high quality cinema. But you can only watch stupid movies being stupid (while they think they're being trendy, clever and unique) for so long before you get pissed and walk away from all of it. For me, a movie like "House of the Devil" was perfect: it took place in the 80's, made it believable, and that was that. The decade for when the movie was taking place didn't become it's own character - it was nothing but a time frame.
With "The Sleeper" it was a bit more heavy handed than what I thought it was going to be. It goes to great lengths to make sure I, the viewer, believe that this movie came straight from the 80's. The thing is that the more it tried, and the more it made things obvious, the less believable the 80's vibe became. Particularly with the characters: From the start, none of them actually look like college students from 1981. They looked like today's scenesters and hipsters who think they're unique for dressing "retro". The hair, the fashion, the lingo - all of it was that more of people trying to pass off a look rather than actually being from a particular time. Watch something like "House of the Devil", or better yet, an actual movie from the early 80's and you'll notice the glaring problem too.
You'll notice a similar problem with the music in the movie as well, and by that, I mean the music the characters listen to. Not the solid score provided by Gremlin - though having Gremlin do the score goes back to the idea that this movie is beating me over the head with it's 80s-ness. Anyway, I understand that this is probably more of a personal grievance and it's not something that makes "The Sleeper" a bad movie. If I ignore what it's trying to do and take it at face value and look at it only as another slasher, then it's a good movie. There isn't a nonsensical sympathetic backstory for the killer - it's a movie about a psychopath picking off college students, mostly women, one by one until there is one survivor. There are no twists and it doesn't try to throw red herrings at you every five minutes - it's even so bold to leave things unexplained. Why does the killer look like he has a nasty case of cataracts? I don't know and I'm just fine with that.
"The Sleeper", as a slasher, is a good little modern day horror indie feature. The atmosphere is good, the acting is tolerable, a few nice violent death scenes, and some great cinematography (there is some actual depth to the shots). The only thing that I consider to be bad is that the 80's style that Justin was going for became too much and basically stood out from the rest of the movie instead helping to blend everything together. Particularly moments like the dance sequence in the bar - extremely ridiculous moment that wasn't necessary because it didn't add to anything. Other than making "The Sleeper" feel like another parody than a homage. Still, as I said, strictly as a slasher it's good and if that's all you want then it's worth picking up.