One of the things I hate most about wannabe indie movies is the fallacy of the two-day scruff. That's when a male character wakes up every day with exactly two days' growth of beard, even if the movie takes place over the course of two weeks and even if he lacks the means to shave. That's a small thing, I know, but it indicates that the director is grasping at straws trying to come up with a visual look for his story, perhaps a kind of cool, grungy look. The new Sleepwalking, directed by Bill Maher (not the Comedy Central guy) is filled with such things, like a spookily serene shot of a girl swimming underwater with weird sunglasses on, or swirls of powdered snow wisping across a lonely highway. These images may fill out a 2-1/2 minute trailer, but they're out of place in Maher's feature film.
Nick Stahl plays the "sleepwalking" James, a dead-eyed slacker who works a construction job and goes home to a dreary apartment. One day his sister Joleen (Charlize Theron) disappears and his 11 year-old Niece Tara (AnnaSophia Robb) turns up looking for help. Even though he can't drive, James attempts to maintain a schedule, driving her to school in the mornings, before turning up at his job. One day he's late, and the next he calls in sick to look for his sister. On the third day, they oversleep, just as social services turn up. James loses his job and Tara is shipped off to a home. But the first chance she gets, she coaxes her uncle to help her skip town. Their money carries them only as far as James and Joleen's father's farm, which looks permanently chilled and dried and wind-blown (only scraps of paint remain on the outside walls).