The mystery/thriller is one of cinema’s most enduring genres. From making movie history with classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Psycho in the 1950s to adaptions of bestselling novels such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it seems the lure of a good mystery still captivates audiences. With such a good track record it is no wonder that a mystery was a headliner in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
From writer-director Meredith Danluck comes State Like Sleep. Centering on photographer Katherine played by Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Alien: Covenant) after she discovers her estranged husband was shot to death. The police rule it a suicide but due to her husband’s celebrity—a high-profile actor—Katherine takes it upon herself to investigate what happened to the man she once loved. However, delving deep into the secrets of a family member can be both hurtful and shocking, as Katherine soon discovers. This is a process that not only unravels her husband’s life, but also her own. It’s an adventure that takes her from the scene of the death—strewn with drugs, alcohol, and a firearm—to the beautiful city of Brussels and a seedy yet aesthetically pleasing nightclub.
The locations provide eye-pleasing visuals that are helped out a great deal by the director’s artistic vision. The colors are deep, visceral, vibrant—we are treated to reds and blues that drape the characters in intense hues. The cinematography also plays a satisfying role with high and rather broad ceiling shots, giving us a comprehensive view of the locals and those within it. The locations feel like characters in and of themselves. Whenever we enter the nightclub it feels like a completely different world, giving off an almost dreamlike quality thanks to the colors and costume design, which greatly contrasts the more realistic outside. Speaking of characters, some of the individuals feel somewhat forced into the narrative. Take Edward for instance, played by Michael Shannon, (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire) a married man who falls in love with Katherine. This whole subplot feels unnecessary and overworked. It does not add anything to the story aside from derailing it. When the narrative is firmly on the tracks, however, the ride can be quite intense, if not a tad underwhelming. If anything, State Like Sleep teaches us that sometimes we want there to be more mystery to a rather straight-forward situation, which is, of course, human nature.
State Like Sleep is not so much a roller-coaster ride than it is a turbulent train jaunt. What it lacks in speed it makes up for in scenery. Some may find the trip boring while others will enjoy the outing. During our screening on April 22nd, writer-director Meredith Danluck and actress Katherine Waterston discussed the creative process with the audience at the Cinepolis Chelsea Theater.
For Danluck, who is known for her documentaries, State Like Sleep is her narrative feature debut. She credits this for making her a stronger film maker. “It has made me a stronger film maker. I’ve spent a long time editing documentaries, making documentaries (I work with Vice producing a lot of short form documentaries), and through that I really came to understand dialogue, story structure and people’s emotions in a deeper way. Feature filming was always something that I wanted to do but, working in documentary was a way I could collect the tools for film making,” she said.
Moderator (M): Why did you choose to tell this story as your debut Narrative?
Meredith Danluck (MD): I come from an art background, as well as a documentary background, and I’d just completed a four-screen feature narrative. So, four 80-minute films that played simultaneously with one soundtrack at Sundance a few years ago in the new frontier section. By all standards they were very conventional narratives in structure, but in this unusual setting. I worked with great actors on that. I worked with Ben Foster and Sue Galloway from 30 Rock. It was just an incredible experience, and when I finished with that I said, ‘Well now I’m going to make a real movie.’ I told myself, I’m going to take a couple weeks off and write a script, and that totally is what it takes, two weeks. Yeah, that was like five years ago. I was thinking, well what am I going to write about?And then the next day I got a phone call in the middle of the night from my mom who was in the hospital in Brussels. And so Brussels was where I used to live with a great love and I had a whole life there that I abandoned. So, there is a lot of truth in this story that is grounded in a very emotional truth. While I was there I had to credit a lot to Ben Foster, who I had just worked with who said: ‘You want to write a movie, just start writing things down. Just start writing.’ So that’s how it came about.
M: Amazing, so Katherine how did you come to this project?
Katherine Waterston (KW): It was kind of an unconventional way of getting to a script. Meredith and I have a mutual friend, who isn’t in show business, and he wrote me an email one day saying that I might be right for a script he read, he said my friend wrote it. And you know when you hear that kind of thing you kind of wonder if it’s unreadable. I clicked on the document and saw that the character’s name was Katherine, and I thought ‘Oh that’s sweet, he’s not in show business, and he thought of me for the part because I have that name.’ And then suddenly I was on the last page—I just completely fell into the story. That’s a pretty rare experi-ence when reading scripts, when it really gets your attention. I sort of begged to be a part of it. I’ve done a couple of independent films and they couldn’t make it with me, and so I tried to forget about it as best I could for a couple of years. And then I was lucky to get some other things that made it possible for them to make the movie, so it was a long time coming. That’s just the randomness of it, but it’s also such an advantage because you have the character in the back of your head kind of bouncing around. You’re not really actively focusing on it, or working on it, but it’s kind of working on you. So, when it finally came together, it felt like I’ve done time with the character.
M: The film creates such a specific mood. How did you de-velop the individual style and were there any inspirations you drew from?
MD: Yeah, actually Christopher Blauvelt, and I watched a lot of movies and looked at a lot of photo-graphs. It started with the character of Brussels as a real tone. That city is very beautiful, but there is also this seedy underbelly to it which is really interesting. And there’s a loneliness to the city. And trying to capture that tone within the visual side and also with the characters was really important. There were lots of different films we looked at for different reasons, Roman Polanski’s Frantic was a touchtone film for some camera movement and framing. Versi and Eggleston for photographs. There are a lot of different pieces from influences, for sure.
Photos by Dean Moses