Studio: XLrator Media
Director: Pearry Teo
Writer: Pearry Teo, Josh Nadler
Producer: Ehud Bleiberg, Pearry Teo
Stars: Ethan Peck, Natalie Hall, India Eisley, James Adam Lim, Zack Ward, Scott Alan Smith, Cyd Strittmatter, Mim Drew, Bruce Davison
A reclusive artist haunted by dreams of Sleeping Beauty inherits a family curse with ties to a mysterious mansion.
An entrancing beauty cursed with eternal slumber haunts the dreams of reclusive artist Thomas Kaiser. Whenever he attempts to wake the woman with a kiss, searing images of an ominous mansion paralyze Thomas with pain and immediately jolt him back to reality.
His only friend thinks Thomas is emotionally troubled. His therapist thinks the visions stem from a deeper trauma. Yet Thomas’ life is due for another unusual turn when an odd uncle he never met takes his own life after naming his nephew as heir.
Thomas receives two things from previously unknown uncle Clive. To Thomas’ astonishment, the first passed-down possession is the old house from his dreams, which comes complete with a written warning about never entering the basement’s hidden rooms. The second part of the inheritance? A cursed Kaiser bloodline dating back to the Crusades tying male heirs to the mansion, as well as to the sleeping beauty in their dreams.
Thomas isn’t the only one confounded by his newfound fortune of frightful family secrets. The brother of estate agent Linda went missing at Kaiser Gardens, as did dozens of others in the last century alone, and she demands answers. Linda and Thomas thus set out to solve an ever-deepening mystery involving mannequin monsters stalking darkened halls, ancient legends of demons versus djinn, and an ever-present attraction to the otherworldly woman compelling Thomas to find her so that she might finally be set free.
“The Curse of Sleeping Beauty” puts a modern spin on the Brothers Grimm classic by reimagining a familiar fairy tale as a gothic haunted house mystery. Filmmaker Pearry Teo similarly combined elements of fabled legend and costumed romance for the dramatic horror of 2013’s “Dracula: The Dark Prince” (review here). That same intention to create a sweeping sense of atmosphere through genre-blending fantasy is also on full display here.
Citing influences such as Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” and James Wan’s “The Conjuring” (review here), Teo has a focused cinematic eye for creating visually striking movies with period piece flourish. It’s a collaborative achievement, as Jacqueline Goehner’s pointed peacock feather costuming, Scott Glasgow’s moody music, Alessandro Marvelli’s detailed production design, and Christopher C. Pearson’s crisp cinematography work in unison to generate a hypnotically dreamlike feel and sharp look.
Having compiled a capably creative team of technical talent, what director Pearry Teo needs next is an energized idea for a lively script. “The Curse of Sleeping Beauty” isn’t it.
The pretty picture charm of “The Curse of Sleeping Beauty” suffers from the fatigue of slow-paced predictability. It’s the kind of film that could be clipped to half of its length without skipping a beat, yet pads itself with overwrought exposition spread thin throughout uninteresting scenes occupied by unnecessary characters.
Some of the best bits come from lingering looks and comments muttered after someone exits a scene and the camera hangs back for a moment. These quick throwaways tease entertaining personalities for the people populating this world, but the movie has no substantial use for the revolving door of roles relegated to two brief appearances or less.
Many scenes featuring lead actors Ethan Peck as Thomas and Natalie Hall as Linda serve solely as matter of fact plot advancement via montage, silent studying, or exposition vomiting. We’re talking the sort of setups involving a trip to the county clerk’s office to review written records with pursed eyebrows. And we’re talking the type of in-the-know local behind the clerk’s desk who creases her own forehead when Thomas mentions the address being researched. “Oh, THAT house?”
Spooks and scares echo equally standard fare. Flashlight beams wave slowly across creepy mannequins in dark and dusty rooms. Flickering lights feature prominently during creature attacks. Execution is effective enough, though there is nothing unique about the presentation or the purpose that captivatingly commands undivided attention.
Make it past the many moments of seated conversation, journal translation, or cellar spelunking and you will arrive at an ending likely to leave the impression that the film is incomplete. In a way, it is. The movie purposely concludes on a note of unresolved ambiguity. That’s because “The Curse of Sleeping Beauty” was envisioned and is intended as a transmedia project encompassing multiple formats, of which the feature film is only one part.
In addition to paralleling a comic book from artist Everette Hartsoe, “The Curse of Sleeping Beauty” serves a secondary function as a two-part episode for a proposed television series. This bit of knowledge solves the mystery of why tangentially-related characters and concepts are established only to disappear as fast as they are introduced. It also explains why the film feels unfinished, and ultimately unsatisfying.
Small screen motives don’t translate into big screen scope. Although aesthetically appealing as a film, “The Curse of Sleeping Beauty” undercuts itself as a feature by trying to pull double duty as a TV pilot. Additionally undone by the dead weight of an overstretched story, stereotypical setups, and a twist telegraphed before the opening titles conclude, “The Curse of Sleeping Beauty” doesn’t fully develop the distinguishing characteristics it wants, and needs, to truly pop as a distinctively visionary property.
Review Score: 55