Sundance Review: Sleep Dealer
by Alex Billington
January 22, 2008
One of the few science fiction films playing at Sundance, Sleep Dealer is heavily inspired by The Matrix and Fritz Lang's Metropolis and is situated in Mexico. The film is basically a mash-up of all kinds of random visuals, from extensive CGI to lush colors and memory sequences, but doesn't ever set forth a real story. As much as I'm a huge science fiction, this didn't hit a note with me at all, and as brutal as it may be to say, I just can't stand films with utterly terrible production values.
Set somewhere in the near future, Sleep Dealer is about Memo (Luis Fernando Peña), a poor Mexican adolescent who prefers to tinker with electronics over help on his family's farm. When his home-built hacking radio is discovered, the government uses a drone to hunt him down. The drone attacks his home and kills his father and sets into motion Memo's desire to avenge his death and destroy the dam, which was built to control their water supply in order to sell it back to the villagers at high prices. Then you throw in the lovely Chilean beauty Leonor Varela, the best part of this film both visually and story-wise, and everything gets even more confusing.
There is no real foundation to the story and it was often a confusing mess. It jumped from scene to scene and cut between different moments without rationale, using the same footage multiple times throughout, but without any real coherence. However, the biggest issue that I tried to get past but never could is how bad the digital effects and production values were. Nearly everyone on this film was doing their job for the first time, and it showed. I hate being so brutally honest, but there is a difference between using a small budget to your advantage and using out-dated CGI.
While Sleep Dealer brings up some interesting morality questions regarding futuristic working environments, what's right and wrong both as a human in a tough situation and as the government, the film doesn't achieve anything even remotely extraordinary. I admire Alex Rivera's attempts as a first time filmmaker, but I think it's best he works under a real director for a few years before he starts up on his second attempt.
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