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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 05.12.16] horror fantasy

Over the years I've really enjoyed some of writer/director Pearry Reginald Teo's work. His stories are always interesting and unique and though on occasion the projects feel like they're the work of a director with vision who just hasn't quite reached his peak yet, it was only a matter of time before Teo's vision really came through on screen and The Curse of Sleeping Beauty is the pinnacle of the director's work to date.

A re-imagining of "Little Briar Rose" originally recorded by the Brothers Grimm, Teo's story concept, which was expanded on by screen writer Josh Nadler, is one of the better screen adaptations of the classic fairy tale, keeping the dark fantasy alive while infusing a completely new take on the material in the form of a mystery with tinges of horror.

The updated story centers on Thomas, an artist plagued by a nightmare of a woman asleep but before he can wake her up, he wakes up with terrifying sleep paralysis. He's struggling with the dreams and an anxiety that has made him a shut-in when out of the blue, he receives a call from a lawyer advising that an uncle he didn't know existed died and left him a house on the outskirts of the city. At first confused and unbelieving that anyone he'd never met would leave him anything of value, Thomas soon changes his mind on the inheritance when he sees a photo of the house and recognizes it as the house from his nightmare. Desperate for answers, he packs up some belongings and heads to the property to investigate what, if anything, the mansion has to do with his nightmare.

It's here that Thomas meets Linda, the lawyer's representative who has an ulterior motive for her interest in the property. Almost immediately the two find themselves working together to uncover the mysteries of the house, the sleeping woman known as Briar Rose and the curse which has been plaguing Thomas' family for centuries.

Teo and Nadler's take on the material is wholly original and a fascinating mix of fairytale and horror which incorporates some unexpected concepts and though the idea of a curse isn't exactly new, it does feel fresh within this story. It also helps that The Curse of Sleeping Beauty combines interesting visual styles taking ideas from traditional dark fairy tales and mixing them with a touch of steampunk and a healthy dose of horror.

One of the best aspects of the movie, and there is much to love here, is the fact that Teo doesn't shy away from horror and when Sleeping Beauty turns to the horrific, it jumps in completely. The monsters are genuinely frightening and the practical effects are excellent; in one early scene you can almost feel the icky goo dripping from the monster.

In addition to great technical craft, the performances from the leads, particularly Ethan Peck as Thomas, are great. Even Bruce Davison who has a tendency to be bombastic is pulled back just enough to make his performance really memorable without being laughable.

I was hoping for good things from The Curse of Sleeping Beauty but I was unprepared for just how great it is. Some will find the ending abrupt but I love that Teo ends the story here, at the natural conclusion of the first act in what is clearly a much larger story that could easily fuel a dark fantasy franchise. I certainly hope there's more to come.

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty opens theatrically on May 13 and will be available on VOD and iTunes on May 17.

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