For the past decade the French have owned the home invasion horror subgenre. The films High Tension, Inside, (to a lesser extent) Martyrs, and ILS have taken the familiar comfort of home’s four walls and transformed them into a cavalcade of terror, mayhem and death. The sibling team of Caroline and Eric du Potet (producers of Inside) add to the impressive list with In Their Sleep.
A year removed from her son’s tragic accident/suicide Sarah (the original La Femme Nikita, Anne Parillaud) remains a depressed shell of her former self. The quaint fixer-upper countryside villa remains in a state of disrepair as her husband abandoned her to deal with his own grief, leaving the crumbling walls and scattered home repair materials a fitting metaphor for Sarah’s own life. She works herself to the point of collapse as a nurse just to have a routine to numb the hours of the day. Exhausted to the point of distraction, she is ordered home by the hospital to rest. In her jittery state she doesn’t notice Arthur until the moment he leaps in front of her car in an attempt to hail her down.
Arthur fears for his life. A man burglarized his home, and Arthur saw his face. Now he fears the man will kill him in order to not get caught. The car barreling down the road, tailing Sarah and Arthur lends credibility to his story, so Sarah takes him to her home once the stranger gives up the chase. His fears prove correct when the stranger breaks in to Sarah’s home in the late hours of night and trashes the place in fury while the pair attempt to hide.
The du Potet’s eschew the constant over the top violence and gore of Inside (a film which, for all its merits felt like a Roadrunner cartoon by its end) for a much quieter film that is punctuated by moments of breath stealing atrocities. Flashbacks and fantasy sequences litter the film, keeping the viewer guessing while peeling back layers of truth. Similar to the first act of Inside the victims have no idea their home has been breached. This tact provides the psychological terrors of the film. The idea that one can be nestled within their confines, completely oblivious to the torment that lays an arm’s length away plays itself out with stark results. Items that are supposed to provide a sense of security serve to imprison victims instead: in one of the most harrowing sequences of the film a small girl leaps at a deadbolt, with escape just out of the reach of her clutching fingers. The quaint, almost charming nature of an earlier flashback where the unaware family shares a meal and conversation while the intruder casually rummages through their belongings gives way tohorror soon enough.
Parillaud’s performance is the glue that holds it all together. She’s a beaten woman long before she encounters Arthur. While she’s a smart and resourceful woman, anything or anyone she wants to live for has long since been removed from her. She’s often one step away from putting the puzzle pieces together, yet backs away knowing the truth would prove pointless in the end. At times she seems to put one foot in front of the other only because it’s what’s expected of her. By the film’s closing moments, breathtaking in both its beauty and mundane nature, it’s fair to question whether death would provide a welcome relief and reward of a sort for her.
For fans of extreme French horror, In Their Sleep may prove to tame for their liking. It lacks the monotonous violence of Martyrs that pound the viewer into submission or the batshit craziness of Sheitan, Inside or Frontiers. However, the ripped from the headlines aspect of the film, strong performances and stunning landscapes of the French countryside make it compelling viewing, easily one of the year’s best efforts, for those that crave a realistic horror film.
In Their Sleep is available on DVD, Blu Ray, and Netflix Instant Watch