So it's the 1980s, and on a college campus, Dr. Whatley and her grad students are conducting a pharmaceutical experiment involving sleep deprivation and student volunteers. The goal, backed by previous animal experimentation, is for the volunteers to reach a state (after 200 hours of not sleeping) where they achieve lucidity and no longer require sleep.
Unfortunately, one of the volunteers commits suicide by mutilating himself. Although the volunteer was secretly taking another medication, and even after Dr. Whatley falsely claims the student was the 'control' (on a placebo rather than the sleep medication), it seems certain the university will close down the research project.
One of the grad students, Joe – worried that losing the project will cloud his future career – convinces the team to continue the experiment over the holiday break. He also sincerely believes in the project… and he might be influenced by his secret affair with Dr. Whatley! With the campus on break, they continue the project using themselves as experimental subjects: grad students Joe, Dale and Holly, and teachers aide Frannie. Dale insists on being the 'control'. Dr. Whatley is supervising.
So that's the movie: the experimental subjects become increasingly sleep-deprived, paranoid, and hallucinating. Can they reach the 200-hour mark? What if the hallucinations aren't… entirely hallucinations?
The cast is very good. Keli Price is driven and motivated as Joe; Stephen Ellis is nerdy as Dale while hitting on chubby Holly (Christine Dwyer). Brea Grant particularly stands out as the older, cute, nerdy, conscientious teaching assistant. Yasmine Aker is solid (and beautiful!) as Dr. Whatley, though her role strangely slips into the background as the plot proceeds.
This is a horror movie, so there have to be special effects. The mutilation scenes are mostly well done with traditional methods; there is also computer animation for hallucinations and spectres (surprisingly good for the budget).
My preference for a horror movie is for the script to eventually explain to the viewers what in the world is going on. What we get instead is Joe, about halfway through the movie, suddenly announcing his theory of what's going on. But that doesn't really explain much, and then there's a twist at the end which seems to defy what we think we knew.
This means that this movie, which starts off as a rather intelligent horror movie, slowly devolves into just another gory horror movie. I was also surprised that Dr. Whatley, who starts off as a strong villain, ultimately plays such a minor role in the plot.
This movie is not for younger viewers, due to the gore, the mutilation, violence and suicide themes, brief female nudity, and some bad language.
Can you game it? You could actually take the concept and turn it into a campaign of scientists versus spectres, but it wouldn't be much like this movie.
I wanted to like this movie. It starts out well. Then it just gets boring, gross and inexplicable. The ending is sort of cool, if it only made sense.