Written and directed by Meredith Danluck, State Like Sleep centers on Katherine (Katherine Waterston), a widow who returns to Belgium to pick up her belongings and ultimately close a tragic chapter. Katherine’s husband Stefan (Michiel Huisman) was a popular actor, and his suicide was absolutely unexpected. Stefan and Katherine’s relationship may have been going south due to Stefan’s drug addiction and errant behavior, but death never seemed to enter the equation.
Katherine’s mother Elaine (Mary Kay Place, delivering an affecting performance) is also in Belgium to help with the transition, but Elaine’s health problems lead to hospitalization, leaving Katherine to her own devices.
After Katherine returns to the apartment she and Stefan shared, she starts digging into his life, believing a club owner named Emile (Luke Evans) may have played an important role in her husband’s death. Ramping up the mystery is Edward (Michael Shannon), who is Katherine’s next door neighbor while she stays at a hotel. What turns out as an awkward first meeting leads into a much different direction, giving Katherine what seems to be hope for the future.
Danluck cloaks her story with film noir trappings, and it’s refreshing to see a woman dominate a predominantly male driven genre. Femme fatales often give way to complex characterizations, but they usually don’t anchor the narrative, and Waterston is more than up to the task.
State Like Sleep, while offering up tons of atmosphere, isn’t a pure homage to noir, and thankfully it strives for much deeper material. Danluck is much more interested with how Katherine processes her grief and relationship with loved ones, and it’s refreshing to see a storyteller take a genre’s tropes and expand upon that universe. Some moviegoers may have wished for a cinematic driven noir filled with visual flourishes and twists galore, and while State Like Sleep plays a few of those notes, there’s much more music left to be played. Thanks to subtle and surprisingly evocative performances by Waterston and Shannon and nuanced storytelling from Danluck, the song doesn’t remain the same,
State Like Sleep, now available on Digital and On Demand, hits theaters January 4.