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Chasing Sleep (November 4/01)

Though very ambitious and often times quite striking in its presentation, Chasing Sleep never quite becomes the white-knuckle thriller the director seems to have been shooting for.

Jeff Daniels stars as a successful poet-turned-professor, who wakes up one morning to find his wife missing. The rest of the film - which may as well be a play, as it mostly takes place within the walls of Daniels' house - follows his attempts to piece together what happened to his wife, while also staving off his imminent descent into insanity (he hasn't had a decent night's sleep in ages, you see). Along with various inhuman visions (he spots a grotesquely overgrown fetus bathing in his tub, a disembodied finger crawling down a hallway, etc.), Daniels has to contend with unwelcome visitors - most notably, a lonely student (played by Emily Bergl) and a persistent cop (Ally McBeal's Gil Bellows).

Chasing Sleep starts off well - with its eerily foreboding house and Daniels' seriously unhinged performance - but all of this "nothing" eventually becomes tiresome. But before it does, this is a wonderfully creepy riff on Polanski's Repulsion, which was about a woman that slowly went insane inside her apartment. And just like that film, a little really goes a long way. The point is established early on that Daniels is losing his mind, so what we're watching is essentially his point-of-view (which explains images like the crawling finger and the bathing fetus). Obviously, this isn't a character that's easy to relate to.

Chasing Sleep probably would have worked a whole lot better if it had taken a more objective view of the story, and not shown us Daniels' nutty delusions. And since the film operates as a play (basically), the whole thing becomes a little tiresome after an hour or so. Still, Daniels does give an amazing performance, and the creepy atmosphere in the first hour of the flick does warrant a marginal recommendation.

out of

© David Nusair