Review: ‘The Curse of Sleeping Beauty,’ Starring Ethan Peck and India Eisley

Disney has made the Brothers Grimm fairy tales animated, adorable, and family-friendly, but in reality they’re all varying degrees of terrifying, and Sleeping Beauty is no exception. Cursed girl trapped in a glass cage, possibly forever? That’s no bueno! True love’s kiss is great and everything, but claustrophobia and poison are no joke.

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty gets good mileage out of the uneasiness of that original story, and there are creative, creepy elements that work quite well in writer/director Pearry Teo’s film. But those frightening choices are unusual because the rest of the film is so average, from its exposition-heavy script to its eye-rollingly obvious conclusion. The Curse of Sleeping Beauty tries to put a horror spin on the story we all know, but its scares aren’t enough to make the film truly unique.

The film focuses on Thomas (Ethan Peck), a young man seemingly cut off from society, living alone in an apartment covered in sketches and paintings. Each night he’s plagued by nightmares of a young woman, Briar Rose (India Eisley), trapped in another world whom he can’t reach, but his therapist thinks his “subconscious created a perfect passive woman with whom you are unable to connect.” “Your lack of human interaction is what makes these sessions the wrong kind of necessity,” the therapist says. “What you need is to put yourself out there again, be vulnerable.”

Before Thomas can give that idea any serious thought, though, he learns that he’s the heir to the Kaiser Gardens, an estate that has been in his family for generations – even centuries. The palatial manor comes with a letter from his uncle, its previous caretaker, who recently committed suicide: “The men in our family carry with us something terrible,” the letter warns. “It is a curse and a blessing. May the spirits be on your side.”

Is the house the manor Thomas keeps seeing in his dreams? Possibly. And its contents are certainly creepy enough: Bizarre-looking mannequins everywhere, an angel sculpture wrapped in chains, skulls in jars, runes carved into the walls, doors that seem to lock and unlock on their own. “This place is a shithole,” Thomas notes, but there’s obviously a darkness here.

And it’s that darkness that has drawn a woman named Linda (Natalie Hall) to the house, too, and she fills Thomas in on its dark history: Over the 125 years the house has been there, 53 people have disappeared near it, including her own brother. Police never found any bodies within the house, but it has a haunted reputation—and Linda, through her research into the paranormal, thinks there’s a demon inside.

Is Thomas meant to battle the demon? Expunge it from the house? How does Briar Rose fit into all of this? Those are the questions raised by The Curse of Sleeping Beauty, and the script tries to answer them by pulling from the original fairy tale and also incorporating random stuff from the Bible and the Quran; adding in comparisons between angels, humans, and djinns; and throwing around “spells” in Arabic. There’s an attempt to build a mythology here, but none of it feels very fleshed-out, and it’s more haphazard than well-planned.

What the film does do well, though, are the horror elements here. The mannequins in the house start out as a silly concept but turn bizarre, and how the film explains them by using the original sewing-needle imagery from Sleeping Beauty is a nice touch. The main baddie, the Veiled Demon, is used effectively, and although the dialogue it’s given is goofy (“I answer to no mortal!”), the main scene it has with Thomas is certainly nightmare material.

But The Curse of Sleeping Beauty doesn’t commit enough to that horror idea, and comes up short in its execution overall. It doesn’t build up enough mythology to be a pure fantasy; it doesn’t do enough with the original Brothers Grimm story to be a pure fairy tale; and there aren’t enough scares or enough gore to be pure horror. (It doesn’t help that the conclusion, although obvious, makes absolutely zero sense given all the explanation and exposition provided previously in the movie, either.)

“Did you find anything weird inside the house?” Thomas asks an inspector sent to appraise the house. “You’re kidding me, right?” the guy replies. If that sense of humor, and a greater commitment to the film’s horror elements, had been the driving force of The Curse of Sleeping Beauty, this could have been a more fun and creepy spin on the Sleeping Beauty classic. As-is, though, The Curse of Sleeping Beauty comes up short.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Guttenbergs