'Sleeping Beauty': Once upon a twisted time
A review of "Sleeping Beauty," starring Emily Browning, Rachael Blake and Ewen Leslie.
Seattle Times movie critic
'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.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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