There are many things to take away from You Shall Not Sleep (2018) from director Gustavo Hernández and writer Juma Fodde. It’s a well-crafted horror film that relies heavily on the atmosphere it creates, but if the characters weren’t well written, it would be just another horror film set in an abandoned asylum. Fortunately, most of the characters are interesting, as they weave through this narrative that keeps the audience ever-wondering where the movie is going.
You Shall Not Sleep is effective in many of its elements
Bianca (Eva De Dominici) is an actress, but taking care of her father makes it very challenging for her to pursue her dream. An opportunity arises for Bianca to star in a new play by Alma Böhm (Belén Rueda), who pushes actresses to the breaking point to get to their true talent. In this case, the play will be held at an abandoned psychiatric facility, and the actors will go without sleep for as long as they can. However, a previous attempt at this by Alma resulted in odd behaviors being exhibited by the previous actress, as she was in contact with a spirit in limbo.
Dominici is great in this film. Her character is asked to do a lot; whether it is dealing with her paranoid father, competing with Cecilia (Natalia de Molina), or dealing with her own insecurities, she is able to do it all within the context of a horror film. She brings a grounded element to the supernaturally-charged tone the film presents (to clarify, I’m not saying there are or are not supernatural elements at work, but it’s definitely the tone of the horror). Her supporting cast is generally strong, but some of the characters are slightly elevated to a point that it could be read as campy or silly. Nonetheless, it does work in for this film by the end.
The best part of the film – and the hardest to discuss here – is the story. It relies heavily on the development of Bianca, and the relationships she has with a few of the other characters in the film. Hernández incorporates themes of acting and the challenges artists face to be taken seriously, which could have felt a little too self-congratulatory, but instead feels organic within the story. Ultimately, every time I began to feel I had a full grip on the movie and expected it to go in one direction, I was often completely wrong in a very exciting way. Every story beat the filmmakers take ended up feeling satisfying and answered many of the questions it initially made me ponder.
You Shall Not Sleep is a film I could see watching again – if only to make sure I truly caught every plot point. The cast is great, the film looks good, and the creepiness the film pushes on the audience is made enjoyable by the satisfying end. You Shall Not Sleep earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.