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The aftershocks of trauma can take many forms, as Katherine (Katherine Waterston) learns following the death of her famous husband in “State Like Sleep,” writer-director Meredith Danluck’s unsettling first feature. Aided by Christopher Blauvelt’s sumptuous cinematography, this consistently surprising film slinks along with melancholic dreaminess, matching the fugue state that plagues its grief-stricken protagonist. With Michael Shannon and Luke Evans also upending expectations in supporting roles, it’s a confident debut that should reap considerable attention from distributors, and opportunities for Danluck, following its premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
“Without stories, the truth is too random,” opines Danish actor Stefan (Michiel Huisman) during a TV interview at the start of “State Like Sleep.” Though the thespian comes off as full of himself (and also something decidedly odorous), it’s an insight that defines Danluck’s tale. Via eerie shots through Stefan and wife Katherine’s messy Brussels flat, as well as oblique glimpses of a gunshot and blood pooling around Stefan’s head, the subsequent drama is set in motion. Before audiences can settle in, however, the film leaps forward a year in time, to find Katherine — a photographer who has since abandoned her home — receiving news that her mother (Mary Kay Place) is in Denmark, and in the hospital. Thus, Katherine’s long-delayed return trip to the scene of the crime begins.
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With a look of perpetual misery plastered across her face, Katherine is soon dealing with not only her mother’s fragile brain-related condition, but also her nasty mother-in-law Anneke (Julie Kahner), who resents Katherine for stealing away the affections of her beloved boy. Back in the residence she fled, Katherine is compelled to confront the marital messiness that immediately preceded Stefan’s death, including a tabloid scandal involving leaked pictures of him with a mysterious woman. Wracked by...
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