I have to admit, I get a kick out of calling a particular DVD retailer and asking about this film. Every time, without fail, they direct you to the Disney version, with Aurora, Prince Charming, and the evil Maleficent. Well, let me be the first to tell you...this ain't a Disney film. There is no Prince Charming, no Maleficent, and the eponymous "Sleeping Beauty" is as far from one dainty, virginal princess as one can get. She chuckles when the idea is considered that her vagina is a temple; she admits that it is far from a holy site.
Thus, one of the reversals revealed within the Australian film Sleeping Beauty. The Beauty, played by the wonderful Emily Browning, is named Lucy. From the opening credits, Browning's character Lucy contrasts the innocent roles she's portrayed up to this point, such as Babydoll and Anna: she participates in a strange clinical study testing her gag reflex(a doctor or such sends a long tube down her throat and injects air in her chest), does cocaine, instantly has sex with a man she meets in a bar, and avoids paying rent at a friend's house where she is staying. We are taken through Lucy's life as a college student, working various odd jobs, and dating a guy named Birdman(Ewen Leslie). From the various scenes, I could only gather that our heroine is complacent with her life, and wishes for something more. What that is is never explored.
The main plot begins to take root when Lucy answers an ad from Clara(Rachael Blake). If I squint my eyes and ignore the rest of the film, it would have been a perfect scene from a grindhouse flick; in fact, this is one of the scenes displayed prominently in the trailer. Basically, when Lucy meets Clara, she is told to strip, and, along with Thomas(Eden Falk), her body is inspected for imperfections. She is then told the parameters of the job: she is to participate in silver service in lingerie for wealthy clients. Clara outlines to Lucy that there will be no penetration; Lucy could care less, and even welcomes the opportunity.
That earned a chuckle from yours truly.
Fast forward to Lucy entering a plush mansion, where she meets the lead waitress...who tells Lucy that her lipstick has to match...her, er..."special place". She is soon dressed in skimpy white underwear, serving elderly rich people, along with older, sexy babes in stark black underwear, with their breasts OUT. She earns her first paycheck, and soon, Clara presents an escalation of the present deal: at Clara's private mansion, Lucy will be drugged into a deep slumber, and rich clients will have their way with her.
Meanwhile, Birdman, who seems to be suffering from drug use, gets worse. Lucy has three encounters with rich clients, all while naked and vulnerable in slumber. The first man(Peter Carroll) simply wants "all his bones broken" and sleeps with her. The second man(Chris Haywood) uses cigarettes in an act of sexual sadism. And the third man(Hugh Keays-Byrne) seems to have watched either WWE or love old adventure serial posters...cause he carries Lucy's slumbering body around the room, and then slams her on the bed.
Soon, 'ol Lucy is getting scared, discovering a mark on her body, and begs Clara to tell her what is going on. Clara refuses to share the truth of the encounters, thus prompting Lucy to buy a micro camera, swallow it, regurgitate it before her slumbering session with the first man again, and setting it up to film said encounter. The film ends when a horrified Clara, thinking Lucy is dead, quickly performs CPR to awaken the "Sleeping Beauty". Lucy wakes up, looks around, and starts screaming. The reason? I don't know. Yes, the first man is dead besides her, but it does not look like she is screaming in terror. She strikes the bed, which implies anger. So...again...I don't know WHY she is screaming.
I will admit, I have a bias towards the beautiful Emily Browning...not to mention, she has GUTS. To bare your whole birthday suit, without batting an eye, and participating seriously in some of the outlandish things Lucy was subjected to in the three encounters says a lot about this young woman. My hat is off to this awesome actress, who doesn't stoop to using body doubles(I'm looking at you, Lohan and Frieda Pinto), but gets out there and shows herself, honestly. And that says how seriously she takes her craft.
That being said, the film...my thoughts on it is...as a grindhouse aficionado, I felt that a perfect opportunity was wasted. Judging the film without Browning, on its own merits...it seemed pretentious to me. I know, I know, the filmmakers weren't trying to make it this way, that they had a message to get across...but I missed it. Granted, it wasn't all fanservice...for your shots of Browning and the other beauties in skimpy lingerie, you had the three encounters consisting of a naked and vulnerable Browning with wrinkled, equally naked old men. It definitely was not a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-to moment for yours truly.
The film seemed to drag at times as well because of its artsy focus. Before the first encounter with the slumbering Lucy, the First Man launches into a long ramble with Clara about a story of when he was 30 years old, and how he had a book, and how he wants his "bones broken". I was laughing because Clara seemed to reflect my thoughts at the time..."what is up with this old man, and can I get on with my life?"
Then, there was Lucy. We don't get to see much about her. She seems to go through life bored, and seems to do the things she does for the hell of it. She does drugs, sleeps with guys left and right, and finally serves as a toy for wealthy old men. Hell, the only time she seems to care about herself is after the second encounter with the sexual sadist, and feeling the cigarette burn left after. Even then, she doesn't do anything until the end. I don't think your audience will find her relatable, just frustratingly one-note.
The film is definitely shrug-inducing. It lacks the fun of Sucker Punch, or a defining twist like The Uninvited. I would go so far to say that the "artsy" focus was a huge detriment, but that is my very personal view. The reason I say this is that it had the potential to be like a exploitation film...Lucy being trapped in the claws of wealthy elderly guys, who hold her in sexual bondage, and forcing her into sleeping fits. Yeah, I know this isn't for everyone...but this film TEASED so many exploitation elements, it was very frustrating to see that it refused to go all the way.
I consider Emily Browning to be my Danny Trejo. You know how Robert Rodriguez made "Machete" because he met Trejo and considered him like a Mexican version of an action hero? I wish I was a powerful filmmaker at the moment; I would consider Browning to be like my Tiffany Shepis or Linnea Quigley...an cinema heroine of horror and other types of genre films. I would love to write the movie with Emily battling a chainsaw cult(like Quigley in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) or matching wits with a masked killer(like Shepis in Nightmare Man).
Anyway, the film itself gets a C.
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