Cahya (Intan Kieflie, an Indonesian Australian actress who actually was pregnant while filming this movie) isn’t living her best life. She’s just lost her husband, she’s running out of money and she’s not far away from delivering her child. Yet she needs work, which brings her to an isolated mansion to be a maid. And that’s exactly the worst place for her to be.
Directed and written by Stuart Simpson (who directed “M is for Mutant” In The ABCs of Death 2.5), Sleeping Beauties brings Cathya into the world of Alfred (Jeffery Richards) and Francesca McCay (Mandie Combe), a brother and sister. They’re rich, so you expect them to be eccentric. But perhaps not this strange.
When she arrives, the McClays argue over her, as they didn’t expect her to be with child. Yet Francesca takes pity on her and allows her to stay. The outgoing maid, Nia (Candice Leask), shows her to her room and tells her that she’s been there for a year and can’t wait to leave. That’s when Cathya notices another maid staring at a wall a floor above her room.
The strange thing of this film is so much of it feels like it’s the 1920s, as the house feels nearly trapped in time, while Cathya always has a mobile phone on her. I like how her texts become part of the picture and are treated well visually. It also seems that the outdoor footage looks way better than the interiors, as the outside nearly feels like it was shot on film — I realize it wasn’t — and natural while the interiors nearly feel like the color is way too forced. Actually, some scenes look way better lit and filmed than others, but I always feel like I’m inordinately attuned to this.
The McClays demand that everything is done the old fashioned way, even if that means cooking rabbit stew in a pot over the stove. It’s also filled with tons of taxidermy, which is never normal, no matter what anyone tells you. And what’s going on with the strange driver (Mark Adams)?
Oh yeah. A psychic who claims to be an owl once told Cathya that she’s different and can manifest spirits around her, those that are gone, and listen to them. Her boyfriend is stuck between worlds and she will eventually be able to say goodbye to him.
For all I’ve said about the look of the film, I have to say that the flashbacks — when Cathya finally sees and touches the ghosts — looks great with really startling images threatening to tear their way into the frame, feeling like oversaturated grindhouse moments.
Of course, Cathya’s employers have killed all of the past maids. That’s who she keeps seeing walking the halls. And they want her to die next. The McClay’s are very Crimson Peak but go a step further by having the skeletons of their parents on an altar, all part of a ritual to become find their way to Heaven by creating a grand guignol nativity scene with Cathya’s baby soon to be the focal point.
While the final effects don’t delight as much as they could — they’re a mix of CGI and puppetry, it appears, and I always err on the site of practical gore — this film does have enough strangeness and attempts at being more than just a simple ghost story. I’d have loved to have seen this with a richer budget, but for what they had, this is quite effective.
You can watch this on Tubi.
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