Monday, July 17, 2017

Sleepwalking in Suburbia (Annuit Coeptis Entertainment, Johnson Production Group, Lifetime, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched the latest “premiere” movie on Lifetime, a bizarre concoction called Sleepwalking in Suburbia (it seems that “_____ in Suburbia” has joined the ranks of Lifetime’s film “series” alongside “The Perfect _____,” “The _____ S/he Met Online,” “Wrong _____,” and “_____ at 17”) brought to us by one Alex Wright, who directed and co-wrote the script with Bryce Doersam. Michelle Miller (Emilie Ullerup, yet another one of those names that in classic Hollywood would have been changed — even “Lucille Le Sueur,” which wouldn’t have been a bad star name at all, got rechristened “Joan Crawford”) is more or less happily married to Dan Miller (Giles Panton, a not-bad looking actor who resembles the young Christopher Meloni enough I could have thought he was Meloni’s younger brother) except that — stop me if you’ve heard this before — they’re trying to have a child and Michelle just had a miscarriage. It appears to be the trauma over this that snapped Michelle back into her former habit of chronic sleepwalking, for which she’s in therapy with the couple’s friend Dr. Kate Ford (Miranda Frigon). One night, Michelle sleepwalks her way into the home of neighbor Luke Williams (Carlo Marks) while his wife Nancy (Lucie Guest) is out of town, and though her waking relations with Luke are (at least on her end) a perfectly proper friendship, in her sleepwalking state she comes on to him so strongly she virtually rapes him. She continues in that vein, including at one point making her way into the home of Kate Ford and her husband, criminal defense attorney Tyler Ford (Ryan S. Williams), and starting a Bisexual three-way with both of them (it’s established that both Fords are only barely conscious and think they’re having sex with each other, not a third person), until Kate comes to enough to realize she’s being kissed by another woman instead of her husband, wakes up enough to register who the other woman is, shakes Michelle awake and Michelle comes to without any knowledge of how or why she’s there. Though Michelle has no memory of having had sex with Luke, not only does Luke vividly remember it, it’s made him decide to leave his wife Nancy and pair up with Michelle even though Michelle has no conscious interest in him “that way.” It seems that the four principals have known each other for years and Luke had the hots for Michelle all along, and only married Nancy on the rebound after Michelle married Dan. (In the final scene there’s a marvelously ironic glimpse of a photo of the four of them, looking like two friendly suburban couples, stuck with a magnet on the door of Luke’s and Nancy’s refrigerator which director Wright lets us see on his way to the climactic catastrophe.) Also, Michelle finds herself pregnant but, as it slowly dawns on her that during one of her somnambulistic jags she really did have sex with Luke, she has no idea who her baby-to-be’s father is. 

As with a lot of Lifetime’s thrillers, Wright and Doersam can’t leave well enough alone: a wife who unwittingly has an affair with another man while she’s sleepwalking and then has to face her husband’s and his wife’s jealousy and recriminations might have been interesting and even moving — but no-o-o-o-o, given that they’re making this through the Johnson Productions Group for the Lifetime audience, they lard on the melodrama. Michelle finds herself being shot at by a mysterious assailant in a pickup truck and, in a panicked search for some kind of cover, she dives into a convenience store attached to a gas station and begs the young man at the counter to close the store’s doors and let her hide out there — and the kid playing the store clerk actually does the best acting of anyone in this movie, showing genuine perplexity as this strange woman tells her exotic tale and he wonders if she’s just crazy or really is in mortal danger. Nancy disappears, and for a while we’re led to think she is the mysterious attacker — especially when the police turn up documents that show she rented the pickup truck. Nancy does indeed reappear in her home, fueled with murderous rage as she confronts Michelle with a kitchen knife and threatens to stab her to death for having had sex with her husband — who himself is lying on the floor dead from a knife attack, with Michelle having blood all over her, clearly having been framed for the fall by Luke’s killer. There’s a great scene in which Michelle attempts to hide in the basement (even though, like a lot of the plot of this film, it makes no sense for her to hide in a house her assailant knows a lot better than she does instead of bolting for the front door and calling the police) and Nancy drives hole after hole in the flimsy basement door with her knife — but it turns out Nancy is only a subsidiary villainess: the real killer is [surprise!] Michelle’s husband Dan, who went into a jealous fury when he smelled Luke’s sweat and aftershave all over his wife when she returned from her somnambulistic sex with him and determined to take his revenge by killing both Luke and Michelle. (Just how did he know what Luke’s sweat and aftershave smelled like? Were they having an affair? Indeed, a plot denouement in which Dan and Luke are Gay lovers determined to eliminate their inconvenient opposite-sex spouses so they can be together might have been more believable, and certainly would have been more appealingly kinky, than the film we got! But then Wright and Doersam were pushing the limits of what’s acceptable on Lifetime just by showing that brief scene of Emilie Ullerup and Miranda Frigon kissing each other.) 

The plot really goes into melodramatic overdrive with the revelation that Michelle is in mortal danger from her own husband as well as Luke’s widow, whom she clonged on the head with a frying pan just before Dan showed up and attacked her, only she fatally stabbed him with a knife in self-defense. The cops finally arrive and clean things up as best they can, taking Nancy into custody and taking away the corpses of Luke and Dan as we wonder what the hell Michelle is going to do now, whether she’s going to have her baby and whether the events of the last two acts are going finally to snap her already fragile hold on sanity — during the final confrontation she had told her murderous husband she hadn’t really been sleepwalking but had just faked this all, but we’re not sure whether we’re supposed to believe this or not. Sleepwalking in Suburbia is a real disappointment for those like me who thinks Bellini’s La Sonnambula is the best dramatic piece ever done about sleepwalking: it’s a pastoral comedy in which the titular woman sleepwalker, Amina, ends up in the bed of Rodolfo, the largest landowner in the little Italian village where it takes place, and naturally her boyfriend Elvino is upset and thinks they’re having an affair — but Amina pleads that she was merely sleepwalking, and in the final scene Bellini and his librettist, Felice Romani, have her do a much more hazardous sleepwalk that nearly kills her while she’s trilling away in some of the most beautiful music ever written for coloratura soprano until Elvino rescues her and wakes her up, then forgives her for a happy ending. Sleepwalking in Suburbia might have been good clean dirty fun in the best Lifetime manner if writers Wright and Doersam had known when to stop instead of starting their intrigue at 11 and ramping it up to about 25.