First effort a minor sensation

Director: Tom Levesque
Cast: Millie Van Kol, Sarah May,  Amber Liberte
Rating: (M) ★★★★


This micro-budgeted first film from New Zealand writer-director Tom Levesque is something of an anomaly for indie film-making in that almost the entire cast and crew are making their feature debut, which only makes the confidence and assurance on display all the more remarkable.

Shut Eye (Rialto) is ostensibly a look inside the weird and wonderful world of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), a phenomenon in which certain noises, such as the crinkling of paper, the pattering of rain or a softly spoken voice can trigger a distinct tingling sensation in the body leading to enhanced feelings of well-being and euphoria.

Set in Auckland, it follows the shy and awkward Sierra (Millie Van Kol), a young woman recently moved away from home and obviously dealing with some trauma in her past, who finds herself lonely and unable to sleep in her small, unkempt apartment.

A doctor suggests she watch some ASMR videos to see if that helps her insomnia, and before long she finds herself transfixed by the nightly live streams of Kate (Sarah May), a Korean expat who whispers in a deeply soothing tone about her journey of healing while making all manner of sleep-inducing sounds.

The two soon meet in real life, and a close friendship develops that takes a devastating turn. It’s a perceptive and morally fascinating exploration of the risks of trying to find connection in an online world, made all the more special by two outstanding lead performances and a highly original and engaging style.