I once jokingly asked a good friend of mine if during her career as a health care professional any of her colleagues had reminded her of the oddball characters in Channel 4’s Green Wing. “Sometimes…”, she replied utterly dead-pan, “…they’re weirder”. Given the source material of Rowan Joffe’s second directorial outing – a twisted best seller by S. J Watson who apparently penned the novel between his shifts as an audiologist – my friend’s shrewd assessment seems believable.
Following his 2010 interpretation of Graham Greene’s literary classic Brighton Rock, Joffe has taken Watson’s astonishingly successful debut Before I Go to Sleep and adapted it for the screen with intriguing if not wholly satisfying results. Nicole Kidman plays Christine, an amnesiac who wakes everyday having forgotten the previous. It soon becomes clear that her condition is the result of a mystery attack and that her husband’s account of the life she cannot recall may not be the full version of events. With the help of her doctor who encourages Christine to keep a video diary of her daily discoveries, she begins to uncover the truth behind her fractured identity. The piece gets off to a promising start with some truly creepy and suspenseful exchanges between Christine and her informants. Colin Firth and Mark Strong, who play the roles of her husband and doctor respectively, are equally capable of giving depth and nuance to characters who may not be who they seem and for the first half of the film it is genuinely hard to discern who is deceiving whom. Joffe should himself be commended for his impressive ability to draw out the underlying anxieties of domestic life – a skill he applied beautifully in his treatment of Brighton Rock – making Before I Go to Sleep for the most part a classy, cerebral thriller. The short bursts of violence are therefore made all the more shocking and it would be interesting to see him tackle the horror genre more completely in the future.
As the truth surrounding Christine’s dark past begins to emerge however the tension does start to dissipate slightly and the film does have some pacing issues – the conclusion in particular feels hurried and disjointed from the rest of the narrative. The casting choice of Kidman is also problematic and it is at times difficult to fully invest in Christine’s journey outside of its connection to her male counterparts. Anne Marie Duff is reliably convincing as her best friend and it’s a shame her role was so small. One wonders if the dynamic might have been different had she been cast as the lead but presumably a Hollywood name made more financial sense.
Before I Go to Sleep is an enjoyable, if over-baked, British chiller and a welcome diversion from some of the more formulaic horror-thriller franchises seen in recent years. But it will be recognised retrospectively as a mere stepping stone towards Rowan Joffe’s greatest work.
Before I Go To Sleep is out now in Wide Release. Are you interested in reading the Source Novel? Check it out here.