Sleepwalkers

Sleepwalkers ★★★★★

I was stoked about this right from the highly promising opening minutes: it starts with lines of text from an occultist encyclopedia that get scratched by cat claws, and then cuts to two cops at a beachside cat murder scene as Enya plays. Then there's a credits sequence as historical cat-related art scrolls by. Then the next shot pans slowly by a house covered in shady willows set to "Sleepwalk" by Santo and Johnny (later popularized by The Ventures). At this point, I have never wanted to like a movie more. And then it goes straight into some incestuous territory and I'm all like "Wha."

Fortunately, what follows is a wild freakin' ride. I'm guessing its stylistic greatness is mainly due to Stephen King writing it directly for the screen rather than being a retrofit of his overly verbose and rambly books onto the screen. It's almost as if concision is better for an hour-and-a-half horror film. This had to have been written with a visual sensibility since it's so incredibly well-shot: there's vibrant lighting, a lush palette and the idyllic small town with a 50's vibe is fully captured despite being contemporary. This is definitely my favorite King movie—it might have taken a zillion adaptions, but this is the first time his formula has worked onscreen exactly as it's supposed to. All gears click into place: the humor actually works as fun camp and jarring weirdness instead of dragging down the suspense; suspicion of authority, outcasts and monsters are all blended seamlessly into the narrative; the fact that the sleepwalkers' origin is not fully explained only makes them stranger, inexplicable and frightening things that just pop up to inject a hint of supernatural mystery into everyday American life.

For some reason, the cop has a deputized "attack cat" named Clovis, and there's a car chase scene where Clovis is riding shotgun in the police crusier as heavy metal wails in the background (all very important to later plot developments). There are some ridiculously fantastic feline body transformations, the action scenes are hilarious, and also some of the best uses of dutch angles in the absolutely epic climax very reminiscent of classic sci-fi and creature features. Madchen Amick is perfectly cast as an innocent girl who falls for a boyfriend literally from Hell. Alice Krige is also good as the creepozoid cat demon incest mom (is there an Oscar category for that?). There's something bizarrely intriguing about the conflux of the mother's love for her son while simultaneously competing for his affections in exile. We have a compelling little story here amid all the nuttiness that feels oddly melancholic and haunting. It touched me, however inappropriately. "Sleepwalk" would be a great theme song for any film, but here is of course entirely apropos.

I was surprised by how much I loved this—there's no reason for this movie to be this good. You might be quick to dismiss it loony tripe, and maybe you'd be correct, but I defy you to come up with a way to take this wacky premise and turn it into greater art than this. This is highest apotheosis of everything it could possibly be, for better or worse. With cat police thrown in.

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