The main character in Sara Eustáquio’s short film Slumberous is having a very bad night. Before we meet her, we meet the environment and headspace that she is in. It consists primarily of maddening noises. The sound of a trampoline greets us as the title rolls and our main character, dressed in her pajamas, is trying to work out her insomnia by bouncing up and down in the dark. The springs scream with a high pitched squeal that is truly grating on the ears. The next things we hear are not much better, though. The incessant lapping of a dog at it’s water bowl, then the creaking of metal patio furniture. We are already in a state of discomfort when the film moves to a point of view tracking shot reminiscent of classic slasher films, as we creep through the yard of her house and see her through the window at the sink. The humming of a plane merges with an ominous note of music, bringing tense mood into a feeling of fear and suspense. She’s washing her hands at the sink in the kitchen, and we follow her to the bathroom where she then begins brushing her teeth. It’s very clear at this point nerve wracking sounds will be a central motif of the film.
We have another strange moment here during the teeth brushing. As we look on at her, there is a sudden thud on the floor, one that is heard even among the cacophony and our main character turns toward it for a moment with some concern. But not enough to stop brushing, and we never see what it was. She heads to her bed now, a seemingly typical teen girls’ bedroom, adorned with decorative stars hanging from the air conditioning vent, and a poster for the 2005 film Hard Candy placed prominently in the center of the frame above the main character’s head where she lays. As she closes her eyes, ostensibly to make another attempt at sleep, a new intruding noise rises to the soundscape: that of a hamster, who is managing the grating noise compliments of his plastic wheel. The main character’s eyes close for a period, but it isn’t long before they pop back open. There is something inherently strange about the character’s lack of expression now, and we get the sense that she’s not quite right. This is especially driven home in the very next moment, when we find her back out on the trampoline, now with an arm covered in blood. She makes a phone call where an impatient man’s voice answers and she confides “I feel like this house is trapping me.” It’s off to the couch then, where the rattling of the kitchen ice machine pushes her right back out of the room.
Soon she’s back out on the trampoline and on the phone again with the impatient man, who she seems to have woken from sleep. She confesses to him then that she has killed the hamster because it was always making noise. This is oddly contradicted by another statement previous, though, that “the blood is not the hamsters.” She also states that she feels someone is watching her. This is where the film gets interesting and manages to get under the viewers skin a little bit. All of the shots are fleeting, we rarely get a clear shot of our main characters face, only most notably when we look down at her as she attempts to sleep. This makes us an uncomfortable participant in the unravelling of this character, and the careful rationing of information allows us to fear her as we fear for her. Besides the previously mentioned point of view shots, the phone conversation channels many of the classic horror tropes as well, with her bored conversationalist seeming to speak to her as stock characters in some haunted house films are known to do. She seems to be one of the neurotic, ‘imaginative’ women from one of these films when she tells him of her feeling that someone is watching her. He replies like the stock hero, saying “get out of the house, I’m coming over there!” But instead, the lead character just continues to mumble her various anxieties, including the death of the hamster, and the whole thing seems to just get dropped.
This is certainly a low budget film that seems to have been made on the fly. The surroundings in the home, from furniture to artwork, to various objects don’t do anything to add to the ominous tone and don’t seem to be deliberately placed. An especially conspicuous moment when we see a large bottle of corn syrup changing position on the counter during the blood washing scene takes us out of the suspense as we can’t help but identify it as the chief ingredient in her fake blood. With these obvious limitations set aside, there is no doubt that the filmmaker did an excellent job pulling together a pretty creepy vibe with what she had to work with. She shows a strong understanding of the various tricks of the horror genre, and a skill with using them. If there had been a little more money and attention to detail it could have pulled us in further, but there’s no doubt that it holds your attention for its’ full running time.