There has been a rich harvest of taut thrillers in 2014, including the independent American features Blue Ruin and Cold In July and gritty British films Locke and Starred Up.
With David Fincher’s adaptation of Gone Girl looming on the horizon, this is undoubtedly a year when audiences will catch themselves returning to filthy habits and furiously biting their nails in the dark of an unbearably tense cinema.
Before I Go To Sleep is guaranteed to jangle nerves and drop a few jaws as summer mellows into autumn.
Based on SJ Watson’s bestselling novel, this ingenious thriller places us in exactly the same hellish predicament as the heroine, who wakes up each morning without any memory of the past, including her own identity.
Through the eyes of this terrified wife, we absorb scraps of information from supposedly reliable sources and try to piece together the truth, unsure if writer-director Rowan Joffe is leading us a merry, sadistic dance.
Following a car accident, 47-year-old Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) is diagnosed with anterograde amnesia.
Each morning, she wakes in a strange bed next to a man she does not know and creeps into the adjacent bathroom where a series of photographs on the wall begin to fill in the blanks, letting her know that the man is her husband Ben (Colin Firth) and they have shared many happy years together.
“You store up information for a day, wake up, and it’s all gone,” explains Ben, whose love for his wife holds strong.
He leaves for work and Christine continues to learn about her past from information in the house.
Then she receives a mysterious telephone call from someone called Dr Nash (Mark Strong), who instructs her to look in the wardrobe.
“We’ve been keeping a video diary. I’m not sure Ben knows,” confides the medic.
The subsequent footage casts doubt on the facts that underpin Christine’s fragile existence.
“Don’t trust anyone!” whispers Christine to herself in the video diary, tears glistening in her eyes.
As Christine reconnects with Claire (Anne-Marie Duff), who is supposedly her best friend, contradictory testimonies drive her to the brink of insanity.
Before I Go To Sleep drip-feeds us fragmented flashbacks, clouding our judgement of characters as they orbit Christine, purportedly out of love.
Kidman captures the fragility of a woman at the mercy of her condition, who knows she must stare into the abyss before sleep robs her of a day’s detective work.
Firth and Strong offer sterling support and Joffe cranks up the tension masterfully with each hairpin twist.
The guessing game of who to trust is part of the film’s diabolical appeal and the script engineers some wonderful bluffs until a gasp-inducing big reveal that should have audiences teetering precariously on the edge of their seats.