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Originally published Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 3:01 PM

Movie review

'Sleeping Beauty': Once upon a twisted time

A review of "Sleeping Beauty," starring Emily Browning, Rachael Blake and Ewen Leslie.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Sleeping Beauty,' with Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie, Peter Carroll, Chris Haywood. Written and directed by Julia Leigh. 101 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains nudity and sexuality). SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.

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"Sleeping Beauty," the elegantly creepy debut film from Australian novelist Julia Leigh, is no fairy tale; it's designed to leave audiences uncomfortable. Lucy (Emily Browning) is a young woman working her way through university through a series of jobs: office work, paid laboratory experiments, waiting tables, casual prostitution. Answering an ad in the college newspaper, she enters a specialized and highly lucrative form of sex work: In a remote mansion, she drinks a "potion" and falls asleep — the better to submit to whatever rich, elderly clients wish.

It's a story told in quiet rooms and hushed voices — except for one devastating scream near the end — and it's ultimately a horror story, though one completely free of blood and gore. We see how easily Lucy, who's the daughter of an alcoholic and whose would-be lover (Ewen Leslie) struggles with addiction, slips down the rabbit hole, enticed by cash in an envelope. (In one scene, she burns a $100 bill, gazing at it pensively — just because now she can.) Browning, best known for her charming deadpan as the extremely self-possessed Violet Baudelaire in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" back in 2004, gives Lucy a slouchy, slightly arrogant manner that she wears like armor. With a chin-up, clomping walk, we see her constantly traveling between her jobs and the people — the clients, the perfectly controlled madam (Rachael Blake) whose eyes tell Lucy something entirely different from what her voice is saying, the university researcher — who want something from her, something of her.

You see why this beauty craves sleep; you see why she'd be afraid to dream.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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