Girl Asleep is a film of two halves, and your mileage may vary as to which half of this not especially long (77-minute) film you prefer. For me the first half is the best. The film begins as an acutely well-observed coming-of-age comedy. Greta Driscoll (Bethany Whitmore) is fourteen, adrift in a world she can't get the measure of, either at home or at school. Her best, indeed only, friend is geeky Elliott (Harrison Feldman). Then she attracts the attention of the local queen bees, who in another movie might all have been called Heather but are actually Jade (Maiah Stewardson), Amber (Fiona Dawson) and Sapphire (Grace Dawson). Then Bethany's parents (Amber McMahon and Matthew Whittet, the latter the film's writer) decide to throw a party for Greta's fifteenth and invite all her year at school without telling her, so as to get her out of her shell...
So far, not new, but well observed, and at times excruciatingly funny, with spot-on performances from the cast. First-time director Rosemary Myers and her DP Andrew Commis – shooting in Academy Ratio – give the proceedings an off-centre visual sense, with quirky details such as the film's title and captions (“the next day” and so on) appearing on screen as part of props. The period setting – 1970s – is lightly conveyed.
However, at the halfway point, the film takes a sharp left turn for most of the rest of its running time. Although a second viewing does highlight how the latter half of the film is set up, the join still shows. We're now in fantasy territory à la The Company of Wolves (though less gruesome and with less sexual imgery) or Where the Wild Things Are (aged up and with a gender switch). It's clear how this half of the film relates to the first, with its metaphor of adolescence being a large forest you have to find you way out of – but it doesn't sit well with the first half. While Girl Asleep is clearly an ambitious film and one I'd certainly recommend seeing for its makers' obvious talent, it doesn't quite come off.
Girl Asleep began as a stage play written by Whittet and directed by Myers. Developed into a film, it was short near Adelaide and premiered at that city's film festival in October 2015. It played other festivals before its commercial release in its home country the following September. At the AACTA Awards it won for Jonathon Oxlade's costume design and was norminated for Best Film, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing (Kerryn de Cinque) and Production Design (Oxlade). It had a London showing in November, but at the time of writing a UK release is unconfirmed.
Umbrella's Blu-ray is single-layered and encoded for all regions. There is also a DVD edition.
Shot digitally on the Red Epic, Girl Asleep is transferred to Blu-ray in the intended 1.37:1 ratio. Given that this production is digital from start to finish (with likely no 35mm release prints – the one I saw in London, was a DCP) the Blu-ray should look pristine, and it does, with the bold use of colour in the first half coming over well. The scenes in the wood are intentionally more muted in hue.
The soundtrack is DTS-HD MA 5.1 and is clear with the dialogue, music and sound effects well balanced. There's a fair amount of surround activity for a film which is largely dialogue-driven, in the first half at least. The subwoofer comes to life during some party dance sequences. English hard-of-hearing subtitles are available. For some reason they don't render the words of what they describe as the hateful song Amber, Jade and Sapphire sing to Greta at her party. (Sung to the tune of “Greensleeves”, it begins “You've got no tits” and continues from there.)
The extras are the theatrical trailer (1:55) and a making-of featurette (18:41). This takes us through the story's origins as a play and its development into a film, including interviews with Rosemary Myers, producer Jo Dyer, Matthew Whittet, Bethany Whitmore and Jonathon Oxlade.