Sleeping Beauty is at times very simplistic, exploitative, and pretentious, and there’s very little to redeem it except Emily Browning’s fearless performance. Browning plays a student who takes several different jobs in and around her studies. These range from being a research subject for a medical lab, to working in a coffee shop. Then she answers an ad and ultimately winds up as a Sleeping Beauty; a role which requires her to be sedated and lying in a bed so that old men can have an erotic experience with her, the only rule being no penetration.
As the movie goes on it does, to an extent, conjure up an air of mystery and suspense, but by the time Browning’s character (Lucy) starts to question what goes on whilst she is drugged, we have already lost interest in the film. It’s very aggravating because there could have been a great film here; one which actually explored the protagonist in some depth, that intelligently investigated the sex industry, and that didn’t fill it’s very slow paced running time with meaningless dialogue.
Aside from its bad writing though, my big problem with this film is its voyeurism. Its artful presentation attempts to, but ultimately fails at hiding the fact that the female body here is being exploited for its audience. Browning is often nude, or semi-nude throughout the film, and if there had been more substance to Sleeping Beauty then perhaps this could be justified, but as it is the nudity comes across as intending to shock us, rather than it being used to make anything that remotely resembles a challenging question or statement. It’s all posturing here, there’s nothing to back up its apparent claims for artiness. I will say though that the film does look good, and feels polished enough that it’s something of a surprise that it was Leigh’s debut. But it is just that, and Browning’s bravery, which is worthy of note. It is my recommendation to avoid this one.