After its Manhattan premiere in 2011, “Sleep No More” was the latest thing to hit the New York theater scene for several years. The play, in which set pieces from William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” are crossed with the stylistic devices of film-noir, will not be performed on a classical stage, however. Instead, a rented warehouse has been transformed into a 1930s-style hotel – and during the performance the audience can decide for themselves which of the characters they want to follow into which room.
The Norwegian director and screenwriter Jarand Herdal (“Everywhen”), who also began his career in 2011 with the fan project “Harry Potter And Grindelwald’s Demise”, makes no secret that he was inspired by “Sleep No More” for his Netflix horror film “Cadaver” – and so “Macbeth” plays a central role in the very first minutes, namely in probably the most beautiful scene of the mystery horror thriller.
After a nuclear catastrophe, Norway is facing a terrible famine. The former actress Leonora (Gitte Witt) has to pull herself together not to break down in despair in front of her husband Jacob (Thomas Gullestad) and her little daughter Alice (Tuva Olivia Remman). In the corner of the cold apartment is the poster of a “Macbeth” performance at the Norwegian National Theater, in which Leonora once played the leading role. A raindrop scurries like a tear across the face on the poster. Now that Leonora herself is not allowed to do it, Lady Macbeth has to do the crying for her.
But then a spark of hope. Tickets are distributed for an evening theater gala at the local luxury hotel – banquet included. However, the play will not only be performed in the dining room, but in the entire hotel – and the guests are to wear golden masks so that they can be distinguished from the actors at all times. But soon Leonora and Jacob ask themselves if all these mysterious events can really be part of the play – and then Alice suddenly disappears without a trace…
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A fascinating premise
One can hardly deny it: The introduction of “Kadaver” simply makes you damn curious! The visual contradiction between the gray destroyed city and the hotel that stands out like a radiant place of longing. The piling up mountains of clothes with somewhat smaller piles of suitcases, which immediately evoke associations with the deportations of Jews in the Third Reich. The special form of the theater, in which – golden audience masks or not – it is already part of the concept that reality and fiction blur together. The obvious Lewis Carroll rabbit hole metaphor when Alice in a red dress and with a plush bunny is asked by the theater manager Mathias (Thorbjørn Harr) whether she would like to enter his “Wonderland”…
Of course you want to know already: What the hell is actually going on here? But the answer is more or less exactly the one you expect all the time anyway – and the reason why all this is being done with such an exorbitant amount of extra work, although you could certainly achieve the same result much more easily, is very far-fetched. Anyway, at some point the actions of the characters make less and less sense – especially the events in a refrigerated warehouse, where Leonora finds herself hanging upside down at some point, can hardly be reconstructed. (Why should the men trust Jacob?)
… an invitation for dinner at the theater comes in handy – even if the actors don’t make the most trustworthy impression right now.
The tension suffers from this at some point – which is a pity because the creators really tried hard to make the hotel as atmospheric as possible despite a budget that is certainly not too big. This is where certain overlook vibes come into play. Also the actors, especially Gitte Witt (“The Impossible”), are much better than in most horror productions. But even these qualities can’t prevent “Kadaver” from constantly sinking further and further after its strong opening …
… at least until the final shot, which is then again really brilliantly evil.