By Madeline Whittle in the January-February 2019 Issue
In this debut narrative feature from director Meredith Danluck, Katherine (Katherine Waterston) is an American photographer in Brussels whose marriage to a Belgian movie star (Michiel Huisman) is in turmoil. After opening with his suicide, the action abruptly leaps forward to a year later, when Katherine’s mother (Mary Kay Place) arrives in Belgium to help her reluctant daughter clear out the late husband’s effects so that their apartment can be sold. This belated return to their shared home (and to the scene of his death) triggers a cascade of fragmented memories and vaguely ominous discoveries, and Katherine is gradually, inexorably drawn down a path of sinister associations in pursuit of some previously unsought truth.
Anchored by smart, sensitive performances from Waterston, Place, and especially Michael Shannon, playing a fellow American with whom Katherine becomes entangled at the hotel where she’s living, State Like Sleep wants to be a thriller, but the pieces don’t cohere. The deft pacing of Danluck’s screenplay and the production’s well-executed visual concept successfully bolster an affective base of rising tension and slippery dread, but the overly literal and insistent musical score, the textureless dialogue, and the bland editing are all counterproductive, and the narrative never confidently reconciles its competing generic fascinations for an emotionally effective payoff.
State Like Sleep has the ingredients of a searching drama of psychological detective work, but instead ends up feeling slight, apparently lacking conviction in its own ideas.