One of the best horror films of the year is Jason Yu’s “Sleep,” which starts out like a comedy, shifts to marital drama, and then becomes something else altogether, all while barely leaving a single apartment. Yu has worked with Lee Chang-dong (“Burning,” for which Yu generated the English subtitles) and Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”), and he has clearly learned a thing about building tension and playing with tone. “Sleep” is a phenomenal debut, a movie that rises to an incredible climax that should have people talking when Magnolia eventually releases it. It doesn’t premiere at TIFF until the end of the festival, launching at midnight on Friday night. Stay up for it.
Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi) and Hyun-su (Lee Sun-kyun of “Parasite” fame) are a happily married couple, expecting their first child. The film opens with Soo-jin hearing something in the other room and Hyun-su muttering something about someone being inside. Is he just talking in his sleep? It’s just a door and their Pomeranian making the nocturnal noises, but Hyun-su begins to exhibit increasingly erratic nighttime behavior. He scratches himself bloody, eats raw meat out of the fridge, and, well, then, it gets a lot worse. Doctors begin treatment regimens, but Soo-jin becomes concerned that he could do something deadly to himself or their new baby. And then things get really weird.
Is ”Sleep” a tale of post-partum paranoia or possession? Yu playfully calibrates his tones, using the claustrophobic space of the apartment to great advantage. By the time the film reaches its fevered finale, we feel just as trapped and uncertain as Soo-jin, struggling with what we even want to happen next. The finale has one of the most spectacular reveals in the genre a long time, but “Sleep” isn’t just an exercise in unpredictable writing; it’s a tightly-paced and calibrated piece of genre filmmaking. If this is just Jason Yu’s warm-up act, we could be talking about him in the same breath as Bong a decade from now.