Girl Asleep [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (4th January 2017).
The Film

“Girl Asleep” (2015)

Greta Driscoll (played by Bethany Whitmore) is going through a lot of changes in her life. Her family has just moved to a new town and so she doesn’t have any friends at school, but as she is an introvert she is not necessarily looking for friends or acquaintances. Her father (played by Matthew Whittet) is a carpet salesman - a scrawny fellow who is more into dirty jokes and pretending to be hip but is basically not cool at all. Her mother (played by Amber McMahon) also tries to look and act younger than she is, being fashionable and caring about her body quite rigorously. As for her older sister Genevieve (played by Imogen Archer she is on the rebellious side - embracing the pacifist hippy culture while hanging out with her extremely laidback boyfriend Adam (played by Eamon Farren.

At her new middle school, the first person to make conversation with her is the awkwardly shy but well meaning Elliot (played by Harrison Feldman). He offers to be her friend, thinks everything is “awesome”, and is genuinely nice to her in his dorky yet sweet way. But also at school that are three girls that are part of the cool clique - the slightly short but aggressive Jade (played by Maiah Stewardson) and the extremely tall twins Saph and Amber (played by Fiona Dawson and Grace Dawson respectively). As with peer pressure they try to lure Greta to join the girls’ clique but she is just not interested and would rather be with the quieter and weirder Elliot. But as her 15th birthday is approaching and her parents urging her to have a big party with all the classmates to join, it’s only causing more headaches and nightmares for Greta who wants to be in her own world and not have any more changes in her life.

“Girl Asleep” was first a stageplay performed by Windmill Theatre, the Australian theatre company for child and young adult audiences. While the awkward teen anxiety and decisions of having to grow up through a coma-like nightmare were based in the environment of Australia in the 1970s for the play, it certainly struck a chord with kids from any generation and not entirely specific to the 70s. The visuals were certainly 70s, but the dialogue and story could have been from anywhere at anytime. The play was a hit and the writer Matthew Whittet rewrote the stageplay into a screenplay with the thoughts of having the film continue as an Australian production with local talent including Windmill Theatre performers to play in the film if possible. With the story basically kept the same, the biggest difference from stage to screen was the placement of the camera - which is a character on its own entirely. While the film has been praised for many of its aspects, the cinematography was the biggest standout of all.

With the film being shot in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio for a modern production to mimic to the square television view of media in the 70s was an interesting choice. Also as the character of Greta being an introvert, the view of her own life and the audience’s view is very limited. For the first half of the film which takes place in “reality”, the camera positions are geometrically composed like a Yasujiro Ozu film or a Wes Anderson film. Characters are frequently facing towards the camera with objects and spaces in the background looking like a flat picture book. There are no diagonal compositions in the camera setup for the most part, and like Wes Anderson, the camera does have movements. It could be quiet and unassuming trackings or zooms and even examples of whip-pans like the Chinese dinner where the camera is placed on the rotating table in the center - like a shot from the same-time-period “That 70’s Show”. As for the second half of the film where the audience goes into Greta’s nightmare, the cinematography goes in a totally different direction - there are more over the shoulder shots, geometrical right angles are changed to abstract shapes with its weird characters and dark shots. There are also examples of time-lapse, action handheld shots, processed shots, and many more techniques that separate the second half completely from the first - which may make you wonder if this was the same film or not.

As for the nightmare scene that makes up a good portion of the second half, “The Wizard of Oz” is a clear inspiration, with the main character awakening into a mysterious world that is filled with things she had never seen before along with characters that are clearly counterparts to her real life. As in this film, the characters she encounters in her nightmare are mostly played by the actors in her real life - with the exception of Huldra, played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey. Her father is the grotesque snot covered creature who wants to only help her, her mother is the ice queen, and her sister’s boyfriend is the singer Benoit Tremet in the nightmare world. Visually and thematically the nightmare is reminiscent of “Labyrinth” (1986) or “Where the Wild Things Are” (2009) - young characters that go on a scary journey to learn how to grow up.

Bethany Whitmore who plays Greta does a good job with the introverted character performance of going through an awkward period in teenage life. While her character alone would possibly a bore to watch being alone, it is the ensemble of supporting characters that truly hold the film up. Matthew Whittet who wrote the story and also acts as the father is a strange counterpart to Amber McMahon as the mother. As they seem like weird opposites, it does make you wonder how they ended up being together, but that’s something that makes them memorable. Maiah Stewardson, Fiona Dawson and Grace Dawson playing the bitchy three are the real nightmare for Greta - not too over the top, but just enough to be borderline cartoony and real. Harrison Feldman as Elliot is a really important character and the awkwardness played by Feldman seems genuine. The many unknowns and young actors that are part of the production are a great group together and it will be interesting to see where their careers go from here.

The film is by no means perfect - it certainly has its moments with awkward humor but there are times where it falls flat in delivery and there are moments of seemingly unnecessary portions. There is setup for the nightmare segment with the introduction of the music box early on, but the change in tone completely for the latter half was almost too jarring - like a different film was within the film suddenly. Tone-wise it did not sit as a mirror image as it could have been. Regardless it was an interesting take, but something was slightly missing. Visually it is still highly impressive with its look of the 1970s stylized and recreated along with the very unique cinematography with images that will stay with you.

The film adaptation of “Girl Asleep” premiered at the 2015 Adelaide Film Festival on October 20th 2015 where it won the Audience Award for Best Feature. The film rolled out to various international festivals throughout 2016 where it won the Grand Jury Prize - Best Film at Seattle International Film Festival, the Age Critics Prize - Best Australian Film at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and was nominated for many more. The film opened theatrical in Australia nearly a year after its festival debut on September 8th 2016 by Umbrella Entertainment followed by America a few weeks later by Oscilloscope Laboratories to positive critical acclaim.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. As stated, the 1.33:1 narrow ratio was an artistic choice and was shot digitally on the RED Epic. While the narrow ratio captures the television ratio style of 1970s television, the visuals are beautifully shot in HD. The colors of the 1970s wood paneling, the carpets on the floor, the tacky yet retro cool clothes and brightly colored school uniforms look great. The second half is much darker in the forest, but is still also accurately reproduced. There are no issues of errors in the transfer. As expected with a new film, it looks absolutely great.

The film runs uncut with a quite short runtime of (77:00).

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
The lossless 5.1 track is mostly center based with dialogue with music and ambient effects used for the surrounds, and especially kicking in more with the nightmarish second half. It is not an especially bombastic movie and the music is not exactly a 70s soundtrack and really could be from any time period. Like the picture, there are no errors with the audio transfer either.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font. The subtitles are finely timed and easy to read, though there were some times that Elliot would be spelled Elliott with two T’s, making me flip flop between notes on how to spell the character’s name. Also an issue was the scene where Jade plays the cassette tape with the song that upsets Greta. There were no subtitles available here for some reason and it’s a strange choice that they were not captioned at that scene since it was a pivotal moment for Greta's character.

Extras

Interviews with Cast and Crew (18:41)
This short featurette includes input from director Rosemary Myers, writer/star Matthew Whittet, and many more from the various cast and crew. They talk about the process of adapting it from stage to screen, recreating the 1970s, the themes of growing up and the dark side of age old fairy tales, and more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 and 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Trailer (1:55)
The original trailer with critic quotes is offered.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

The extras are a little on the paltry side of things. The interview featurette does offer some good information but the insights are too brief. If they had divided it up into one for “costumes”, or for “stage to screen”, or “about the characters” to give each topic more time it would have been more informative and interesting.

Overall

”Girl Asleep” starts from awkward ”Napoleon Dynamite” like teen comedy and forays into dark ”Labyrinth” territory, which may be a bizarre contrast but is entirely visually interesting with memorable quirky characters along the way. Being a teen was never easy, whether it was the 1970s or now. Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray gives the film a great transfer in audio and video while the supplements are a little on the short end. Still goes as recommended viewing.

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: C- Overall: B

 


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