Blue (Leila Mimmack), a teenaged runaway whose final destination turned out to be Brighton, works as a prostitute for brassy-but-fair madam Cynthia (Julie Graham) and her thuggish middle-aged partner Freddie (David Sibley).

Harbouring a sense of loss surrounding the mother she barely knew and the family background that's never been explained to her, Blue pushes on in-between bouts of soulless rutting by getting stoned with fellow homeless lad Glenny (Chris Waller). Their bond is platonic in her eyes; he clearly hopes for something more.

One afternoon, Blue volunteers to take on Cynthia's latest client: a well-spoken telephone request from out-of-towner Bill (Joseph Beattie). He's in Brighton to restore an old building prior to it going back on the property market. Cynthia remembers the place as being a notorious brothel back in Victorian times.

Upon arriving at said appointment, Blue is ushered upstairs to where Bill is residing. He's a handsome young man, polite and articulate, more interested in sharing her company for a few hours than banging her brains out (he seems to have trouble getting it up anyway). As long as he's paying, Blue reasons, she's happy with this set-up.

He starts the evening by introducing her to a mutoscope he's found in the building, upon which he shows her an archive loop he's also discovered there. It details a weird hooded figure with two semi-clad women cavorting around him. Entitled "Dance with the Devil", the reel is sufficiently creepy to freak Blue out.

But that's nothing compared to the two-way mirror she stumbles upon in the hallway - this looks into a "sleeping room", where prostitutes could be watched while they rested in times gone by - and the ghastly hallucinations of the hooded old man (Christopher Adamson) that come moments later. Despite Bill seeming totally smitten with her, Blue makes her excuses and leaves.

However, she's intrigued enough to volunteer herself once more when Bill rings Cynthia requesting a second appointment. Hardly heeding Freddie's warning against getting emotionally attached to a client, Blue returns to the old building and grows closer to Bill during their second tryst.

More weirdness soon ensues, however, in the form of further creepy hallucinations. This time Blue is able to leave the premises with a sepia photograph of the spooky old man and his spouse - who she now believes may actually be her grandparents.

Can Blue, with help from Glenny, solve the mystery behind her morbid visions, save herself and potential suitors from sadistic Freddie, and uncover the truth behind her mother's fate in the process?

What follows is a tale of occultism, incest, murder, possession and pimp brutality in John Shackleton's engaging, flab-free directorial feature debut.

Performances are generally very good, particularly from the more seasoned players like Graham and Sibley. Theirs is a complex relationship and between them they lend it the gravitas required to make it convince. Elsewhere, Waller stands out as the slacker antihero, while Adamson is suitably menacing in his minor role. At times, he resembles Lon Chaney's grinning ghoul from the stills for the famous lost film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT.

Speaking of lookalikes, Beattie brought to mind a young David Warbeck on occasion...

There's only one risible performance in the entire film. That comes courtesy of Mike Altmann. He plays an old acquaintance of Blue's who she visits in the hope of him shedding some light on the house's dark history. He's bloody awful and kills dramatic tension temporarily; thankfully he's only in the one scene.

Him aside, there's very little not to praise here. The Brighton locations are atmospheric in their isolation (these people must've got up pretty early to shoot the barren exterior scenes), while Simon Poulter's cinematography is consistently well-framed and composed. The screenplay, from Shackleton, Ross Jameson and INBRED man Alex Chandon, deftly combines thrills with mordant humour while skirting around cliche. Editing is sharp enough to keep things brisk (the running time is 75 minutes) while allowing for effective character development to shine through.

A low budget is apparent at times (this holds the distinction of being the first British film to be funded by the Equity crowd fundraising scheme), and Paul Saunderson's score is too melodramatic to sit comfortably with the film's otherwise relatively low-key tone, but these minor gripes don't sway THE SLEEPING ROOM from being a solid proposition indeed.

Second Sight's DVD presents Shackleton's film uncut and in its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The picture is 16x9 enhanced, benefiting from strong colour conveyance and stable shades throughout. Images are clean and sharp, while colour correction able manages to disguise any overly digital feel for the most part.

English audio comes in choices of 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both offer reliable playback. Optional subtitles would have been an idea perhaps, as I struggled now and then with Mimmack and Waller's borderline-mumblecore conversations.

An animated main menu page leads us into a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

Bonus features are kicked into life with "6th Sense", Jameson's 3-minute short which acted as the catalyst for THE SLEEPING ROOM's development. In it, Graham portrays an estate agent assigned to inspect a creepy dwelling. It's fleeting, of course, but effectively eerie nevertheless.

A 10-minute chat with Shackleton follows, hosted by critic Billy Chainsaw on the FrightFest stage. It's a decent piece, covering the film's inception and looking into how the screenplay developed while shooting. Chainsaw, incidentally, also features in the film as Bill's sinister downstairs neighbour.

A couple of featurettes are too short to be truly illuminating: a 3-minute look at the film's visual effects; 2 minutes covering "Behind the Scenes".

Finally, we get the film's original 91-second trailer.

THE SLEEPING ROOM is a solid thriller with horrific elements, which help to pitch it somewhere between MIRROR MIRROR and MONA LISA. It's served well on Second Sight's disc.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Second Sight
Region 2
Rated 18
Extras :
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