The Curse of Sleeping Beauty is about a haunted house. We know this because Tom (Ethan Peck) inherits a haunted house from his uncle, a haunted house that is obviously haunted, and proceeds to ask everybody he meets whether or not they also think the house is haunted. But when realtor and secret occult investigator Jane (Natalie Hall) responds that she thinks Tom’s house might be “supernatural,” the soundtrack suddenly stutters, all “Dun dun duuun!” Tom—who is having odd dreams about Sleeping Beauty and a xenomorphish chest demon; who has found a ritual altar in the house’s basement; who has just explained that the lights only work during the day; who is literally, while Jane makes this assertion, recovering from the revelation that his body cannot leave the property without his organs failing; and who has, as mentioned, already asked 327 people if they think the house is haunted—joins the soundtrack in reacting to Jane’s incredible assertion. A moment later, he’s totally on board, but when he mentions that he thinks he might be cursed, it’s suddenly Jane who is incredulous, all, “You think it’s a curse?”
That this movie seems to think that semantically “supernatural” and “curse” are just several degrees more haunted than “haunted” is bad enough. That this movie also seems to think that it makes perfect sense for characters to constantly contradict themselves just to create “drama” in dialogue is the real problem.
Consider an early scene between Tom and the executor of his Uncle Clive’s will. Tom notes that Clive’s house is “like three hours from here” and the executor snottily responds, “You know what? I really know just about as much as you do.” She proceeds to give Tom more information that he didn’t know. Tom then says, “This doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t know my uncle”—she interrupts, “Okay, you’re breaking my heart.” But then she’s like, “Also, here’s this giant envelope with your name on it,” giving Tom even more information. And then, when a photo inside the envelope makes Tom have a brief flash of Briar Rose (India Eisley), the titular Sleeping Beauty, the executor is suddenly all, “You okay?”, concern washing over her face. Then he leaves and she’s back to snotty: “That was stimulating.”
Putting aside the fact that I doubt there’s many executors who believe that it’s the responsibility of their clients to be stimulating and charismatic when their loved ones have just died, it’s just so much…much for a scene where the point is literally, “Here’s a giant haunted house. No, I don’t know anything about your creepy fucking uncle.”
So, the primary reason to watch this film is to marvel at its cognitive dissonance. That ritual altar I mentioned earlier? It’s embedded in a wall that an assessor is convinced blocks hidden rooms in the basement. Later, upstairs, Jane says the word “bloodline,” and Tom rushes her downstairs to show her the altar because she’s triggered the idea that he should use the old rusty knife on the altar to cut his hand to open the secret door. Except…he shows her the altar. She’s like, “Is that blood?” He’s like, “That’s what I thought,” nodding uncertainly. Then he slowly picks up the knife and slowly moves it towards his hand and suddenly she’s like, “Bloodline.” And then he and she look at one another, and then he cuts his finger, and then the camera holds on his bloody finger for what seems like a whole minute, and…why do each of them need to have the same revelation 26 times in this scene? Why do they both react so incredulously when Tom finally opens the secret passage they were both just talking about? Especially when the set design makes the room they find look like a garage that needs Spring cleaning? Why do we have to have the same astonishment 40 minutes later when Richard (Bruce Davidson) accompanies them into the sub-basement?
Tom is a rube who wants to find out what has happened to him; Jane believes her brother died in the house; Richard is an old drunk who also studies demonology. Beyond these basic sketches, what these characters want is not the point, because the point is just that there’s a sub-basement in this house filled with living mannequins and a demon and maybe Briar Rose. Beyond Tom’s basic suggestion—one that interrupts an out of nowhere come-on from Jane—that he feels a connection to Briar Rose, there’s no clear sense of why anybody feels compelled to go find her. In fact, on the face of it, it seems fairly apparent that the easiest way to solve whatever this conundrum actually is—which is never really clear, but has something to do with a generational pact that one of Tom’s ancestors made with the devil during the Crusades—would just be to kill Tom before he has any heirs and then burn the house down. Nobody brings that up. Nobody reflects on how the “twist” at the end renders all of this completely nonsensical. Instead, Richard brings a gun to a demon fight.
He does this because all of the characters are dumb. After Tom shows Richard a picture of the “veiled demon,” so-called because of the veil that conceals its face, Bruce Davidson has to say, “I’ve seen this face before.” He then says the Aramaic name of the demon before intoning that the translation of said Aramaic name is “veiled demon.” When Tom asks Daniel (James Adam Lim), who “occasionally” works “for the government, doing stuff” he can’t talk about, how long his “logarithm” will take to crack the coded Aramaic script found in a “journal” from the basement of the haunted house, Daniel erupts on Luddite Tom like somebody who knows that a logarithm isn’t the same thing as an algorithm and therefore would have a leg to stand on while bullying a non-nerd for asking stupid questions. Except…why is that a stupid question? It’s like every actor in this film independently decided that his or her actor’s secret was “sociopath.” On a different note, I know exactly how long the algorithm I designed to analyze the work put into this script will take.
Of course, the film is so slight that I’m not sure it matters. Aside from Briar Rose and the demon, it looks like most of the actors were told to do their own make-up and hair. The set design is…adequate? There are several bits of reused footage, and several long shots that presumably could have been cut more quickly if there was other material to put in. The scenes which are supposed to be dramatic feature strobe lights.
This movie is just over 80 minutes, and it feels like (a) they’re stretching to fill that much, since so much of what happens is redundant; and (b) that they didn’t actually do a lot of takes, since so many of these conversations are stilted. I do think careful editing could remove a lot of the problems I have with the film’s dialogue, but I’m also sure that doing that would mean there would be very little dialogue left.
This all culminates in a stupid, boring ending—that relies at least in part on Daniel’s logarithm finally decoding the page that actually explains everything—that suggests the filmmakers ran out of time and money. It just happens, it renders most of the “mythology” irrelevant and confusing, and it makes the characters look even stupider. The “explanation” for what happened is given in voiceover. Given what this movie tries to be and what it actually is, the logarithm required to get this movie from the latter to the former is pretty fucking high.
Director: Pearry Reginald Teo
Writer: Josh Nadler, Pearry Reginal Teo, Everette Hartsoe
Starring: Ethan Peck, Natalie Hall, India Eisley, Bruce Davidson, James Adam Lim
Release Date: May 13, 2016
Mark Abraham sometimes teaches history in Toronto, is sometimes an Editor at Cokemachineglow, was at one time the co-founder of The Damper, and is always a Bedazzler aficionado. You can follow him on Twitter.