Saddled with a bland title suggesting an Asylum rip off of the darker Disney live action films, The Curse of Sleeping Beauty is actually a creative and creepy creature feature that has far more imagination and inspiration that expected. Director Pearry Reginald Teo (Dracula: The Dark Prince, The Evil Inside) and screenwriter Josh Nadler adapt the comic book of the same name from Everette Hartsoe (Razor), itself inspired by the story Little Briar Rose by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The direction and writing combined with a terrific cast (Ethan Peck, Natalie Hall and Bruce Davison) give The Curse of Sleeping Beauty a thrilling, pounding black heart as the movie’s central villain, The Veiled Demon, worms its way into the lead character’s cursed mind. Admittedly, the first act is awkward as the dark fantasy hangs its hat firmly on its Brothers Grimm inspiration but, thankfully, the film sidesteps that downward spiral quickly once Thomas arrives at his new newly inherited homestead. Once both The Veiled Demon and its horde of shadow demons are introduced along with paranormal investigator Richard (Bruce Davison), the film evolves into a stirring and often frightening monster movie that would have been a highlight of Fangoria a few decades ago. Bruce Davison is a welcomed presence in The Curse of Sleeping Beauty, providing the film with an energy and hint of needed humor and India Eisley (Eve from Underworld: Awakening) is a fetching Briar Rose.
The story behind The Curse of Sleeping Beauty begins with Thomas (Ethen Peck) suffering nightmares surrounding a sleeping beauty and the demons he feels compelled to protect her from. Thomas, a reclusive artist, feels himself slipping into insanity as the nightmares consume his every thought until he discovers that he has inherited a remote mansion from a long lost relative. Despite the note warning of a curse on the home, Thomas is compelled to head to the home once he recognizes its exterior from his nightmares. Once he settles into his new home, he teams up with Linda (Natalie Hall), a woman who is searching for her missing brother last seen sneaking into the mansion, and Richard (Bruce Davison), a paranormal investigator who is convinced that something supernatural resides within the mansion’s weathered walls. As the trio explore the hidden secrets in the chambers underneath the house, they uncover a creature called The Veiled Demon and begin to conspire on a plan to defeat the monster and free Briar Rose, the sleeping beauty of Thomas’ dreams.
Confession time: from the title alone, I was fully prepared to write off The Curse of Sleeping Beauty. That would have been a horrible mistake even though the film flusters itself while establishing its lead character Thomas and his fears about his dreams of a sleeping beauty. While the character failed to grab my attention during the first act, the effective and unnerving addition of sleep paralysis and hints of something in the shadows kepts my attention long enough for the scenery to shift from Thomas’ flat to the cursed mansion. The cinematography of the interiors of the home from Christopher C. Pearson are extraordinary instantly changing the mood and atmosphere of the entire feature. The shadows come alive as the camera scans for hints and clues to mysteries of Thomas’ obsession. That too helps the film greatly, once the sleeping beauty aspect changes from a fear to an obsession, the subtle shift in his approach to his surroundings and nightmares makes Thomas far more endearing. The film continues to surprise from here on in and before long it proves to be a crafty and eerie haunted house film full of monsters, creatures and surprises. By the end, I was glad I gave The Curse of Sleeping Beauty the opportunity to win me over – and win me over it did.
Bruce Davison (Willard, X-Men) is the shining light of The Curse of Sleeping Beauty bringing one of his better performances to a genre film in some time. He is a blast as Richard the token paranormal investigator character. He gives the role a sense of humor and a hint of history that provides an intriguing supporting character that could have easily been a throwaway addition to the film. His drive to investigate the supernatural and to get to the bottom of Thomas’ haunted house drives much of the second act as much – or perhaps even more so – as Thomas’ obsession with Briar Rose. Davison’s Richard is far more interested in The Veiled Demon and the shadow creatures that inhabit the troubled abode than the Sleeping Beauty behind the guarded door. This helps The Curse of Sleeping Beauty greatly as the audience is likely more interested in these more supernatural aspects as well. Davison is perfect in the role even when the scene is just having him react to Daniel’s (Linda’s tech savvy friend, portrayed by James Adam Lim) exposition about his gear and “expertise” — Davison leans in with intent, a mix of interest and bafflement on his face, ending the scene with a quip and sip of liquid “courage.”
Another element of The Curse of Sleeping Beauty that makes the film far better than expected is the creativity, design and use of its creatures. The film begins by introducing its threat through shadows and blurred visuals paired with Thomas’ bouts of sleep paralysis. Pearry Reginald Teo quickly creeps under the skin with his handling of the visuals and camera in these scenes. He builds on this approach when the shadow demons begin to appear chasing Thomas and Linda through out the cellar rooms. It helps greatly that Pearry Reginald Teo visually establishes the previous owner as an eccentric artist who uses mannequins as his tortured canvas. As these disturbing works of art transform into the shadow creepers hiding in plain sight, it becomes the best use of mannequins as a threat since Maniac or Tourist Trap. But it is The Veiled Demon that is the film’s crowning achievement. And this creation is used to full effect with a rewarding reveal and resolution. The creature is well designed, smartly lit and beautifully photographed. Pearry Reginald Teo shines when it comes time for Thomas, Linda and Richard to face The Veiled Demon just as the film itself begins to hint at more surprises to come.
The Curse of Sleeping Beauty should not be cast aside without giving it a chance to surprise and impress. It is a solid Gothic, dark fantasy that has plenty to enjoy and relish with great performances, extraordinary creature effects and designs and rewarding conclusion. Director Pearry Reginald Teo crafts a creepy creature feature that makes the most of his talented team from writer Josh Nadler to cinematographer Christopher C. Pearson to the men and women behind the effects, designs and set decoration – and everyone in between. Bruce Davison injects a healthy dose of fun into the film as Richard, the driven paranormal investigator, while Ethan Peck and Natalie Hall keep things interesting as Thomas, the film’s lead, and Linda. They each share their obsessions that combined provide the film its forward momentum. India Eisley makes an attractive Sleeping Beauty and an equally intriguing Briar Rose. After an uneven and distracting first act, The Curse of Sleeping Beauty ramps up into a rewarding, scary and fun monster movie.
The Curse of Sleeping Beauty (3.3 / 5)
The Curse of Sleeping Beauty is in theaters May 13, 2016 and available on VOD and iTunes May 17, 2016 from XLRator Media