The original story was set in Brighton; as soon as he visited the city, director John Shackleton knew Brighton was where he had to make the film.
The result is The Sleeping Room, a supernatural film of Victorian revenge newly released on DVD courtesy of Second Sight.
Orphaned 19-year-old Brighton call girl Blue is sent by her violent pimp Freddie (David Sibley) and his blowsy partner Cynthia (Julie Graham) to meet a new punter in Brighton, unaware of the horrifying impact it will have on her life.
As Blue begins to fall for the quirky charms of her client, she’s even more intrigued by the grand Regency terraced house he is renovating, a once infamous Victorian brothel. Together they uncover a secret room that unlocks dark and terrifying secrets relating to Blue’s murky family past. Awakening demons past and present, Blue is forced to confront her own in a psychological supernatural nightmare.
John, who presents the film as his directorial debut, said: “It’s set in Brighton because the writer lives in Brighton. He was renting an apartment in one of those big Georgian townhouses, and they found a hidden room. He found out it used to be a brothel a hundred years before, and the hidden room was used as a resting room for the girls. We went to Brighton, and it seemed just right for the atmosphere of the film. It’s quite a moody Victorian-Gothic piece, and the whole feel of Brighton just echoed back to that. It felt right. We became absolutely convinced it had to be shot in Brighton. We had lots of happy accidents, and the place just seemed to prop up the themes of the piece. All those restored Victorian properties were very evocative. You have got this shiny veneer that is starting to crumble. You have got this seedy side that is starting to come through… We just felt we had to make the film there.
“It is set in the present day, but this character discovers a sleeping room… Within that there is a spirit. It is more of a psychological horror film than an all-out gore fest. When I read the script, it was just super, super creepy, and the trip to Brighton confirmed it all for us. You’ve got that feeling of something just hiding below the surface. It is a bit like Hammer Horror in that true British sense. It plays like something heightened.”
A minor-budget independent film, The Sleeping Room has been completely dependent on private finance. It comes to DVD on the back of a strong social-media showing, which John hopes will continue to build: “There are a lot of people that are aware of it.”
And with time, John is starting to be able to appreciate the film as a viewer rather than as its creator.
“I have lived with it for a long time, and my initial reaction when I was sitting down at screenings at a number of festivals was to be thinking of all the things I could have done, but now about a third of the way through I start to surrender to it. For the final half of the film, I get completely engaged with it. It’s my first film, and I am very proud of the achievement.
“Because I am an independent production company and producer, I don’t get any hand-outs from anywhere. I am not in the inner circles. I’ve got to generate enough interest to fund and finance the project, and then I can go again. It is very much a self-sustaining project.”