Director: Peter Sullivan
Writer: Peter Sullivan, Peter Schenck
Producer: Peter Sullivan
Stars: Haylie Duff, Tobin Bell, Shaun Sipos, Shae Smolik, Amanda Wyss, Paul Logan, Ricco Ross, Jason-Shane Scott, Lyn Alicia Henderson
A young woman discovers her niece has the uncontrollable ability to summon a supernatural sandman capable of killing anyone who threatens her.
When a movie’s primary proclamation touts that it is executive produced by comic book legend Stan Lee, who, at 94-years-old, almost certainly had nothing to do with the project creatively in his honorary credit capacity, it’s an open admission that said movie doesn’t have a stronger marketing leg to stand on. It’s also telling that “The Sandman” couldn’t concoct a cleverer tagline than “Don’t Fall Asleep,” a dull dare destined to be failed considering that the film’s superpower is its ability to bore audiences into unconsciousness.
“The Sandman” starts by introducing Colton Blake, a single father on the run with his young daughter Madison. We know he’s in trouble because when siren lights briefly flash behind his car, the camera cuts to a close-up of Colton cautiously reaching for a glove compartment gun. But we also know he’s a good guy because when Colton breaks into a closed convenience store, he leaves crumpled money on the counter to pay for the snacks he steals. The storeowner is on his own for damage to the door though, as two tens and a five won’t come close to covering the broken glass pane.
The other thing learned from this opening scene is that “The Sandman” blueprints itself according to “Horror Moviemaking for Dummies,” since it couldn’t be more basic about its approach to doling out information. That is to say nothing, not yet anyway, of the equally simplistic means by which the film designs plot point pushers it calls characters or builds supposed scares from predictable beats.
Colton can’t even get the brown bag of Hostess donuts out the door when a supernatural sandman whips up in a whirlwind to murder the man. Who or what is this evil entity? His only backstory says that Sandman is uncontrollably conjured from little Madison’s psychic mind. Having seen him in a scary storybook, Sandman represents Madison’s fear given physical form. Beyond that, Sandman is a blah blob whose only purpose is murder. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t have a personality. He doesn’t even follow a tangible mythology, alternating motivations between killing anyone who threatens Madison or attempting to harm her himself, whatever moving to the next commercial break mandates.
With Colton out of the picture, Madison moves in with her aunt. Claire is the first of several figures facilitating the function of doubting the girl’s claims of a creature. This enables “The Sandman” to occupy its second act with the usual “figuring it out the hard way” fluff.
Of course, paving a path to the “how do we stop Sandman and save Madison?” finale wouldn’t be possible without a roster of fodder for the kill mill. One name on that list is Madison’s de facto boyfriend Wyatt. Wyatt starts as a voice of reason suggesting police intervention only to 180 into an urge to handle matters himself, reasoning it makes more sense for him to premeditate beating the eight-year-old girl to death with a brick.
The only denser person on hand is a local newscaster. In reporting on Colton’s death and subsequent fate of his daughter, she makes sure to mention, “Madison is currently in the custody of her aunt who lives in Los Angeles,” because that’s relevant information a responsible journalist would broadcast. Then again, it is relevant for setting up the nosy neighbor, who naturally watches the news at that exact moment, to meet his Sandman-induced fate.
If all horror movies were considered equal, my first inclination would be to criticize “The Sandman” for having a tame made-for-TV tone. Except it is made for TV. So do I give it laudatory credit for meeting the low expectation bar of bland cable content never meant to aim above average, or do I issue a dismissive thumbs down while citing the same criteria?
“Fine enough” is the best to be said about the film’s okay FX, acceptable acting, and other underwhelming attributes. “The Sandman” fits the description for a routine fright flick intended for those who only watch such movies during October anyway, hence its status as a “31 Days of Halloween” selection. Even by Syfy standards, “The Sandman’s” subpar style and story have neither a streak of originality nor creativity to make the movie stand out for anything more than its forgettable flavor.
Review Score: 30