‘When Angels Sleep’ is a fun thriller where everything goes wrong

After watching Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, my best friend’s dad made a great point. He explained that even though a steak dinner is always a great option, sometimes a hot dog hits the spot. Netflix‘s new Spanish thriller When Angels Sleep is a hot dog. It’s a fast-moving story about a day that starts poorly and gets exponentially worse. Writer-director Gonzalo Bendala has crafted a fun genre exercise that’s laced with enough nastiness to keep its familiar story slightly off-balance. 

When Angels Sleep
Three stars

 

RELEASE DATE: 12/28/2018
DIRECTOR: Gonzalo Bendala
STREAMING: Netflix
A bad day turns into a long and terrible night for a workaholic man and a rebellious teenager after a car accident brings them together.

German (Julian Villagran) is a workaholic who’s eager to please everyone, at his family’s expense. After meetings keep him from his daughter’s birthday party, German hops in a rental car for the 500km trip home. Before he even hits the road, someone backs into him in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, Silvia’s (Ester Exposito) own terrible day is just beginning. A night of bad decisions for her and Gloria (Asia Ortega) brings about instant regret. After ditching the guys they went out with, Gloria and Silvia set out along the dark road, as German struggles to stay awake at the wheel on the same road. After he hits their car, German tries to get help for badly injured Gloria while a coked-up Silvia freaks out.

Netflix When Angels Sleep review Trailers y Estrenos/YouTube

Convinced they were the victims of a malicious attack, Silvia tries to get away from German, but she can’t shake him. German, hoping to help both women, grows increasingly desperate. The characters make terrible decisions constantly, but Bendala doesn’t make them dumb. That would be too easy. Instead, he allows their desperation to cloud their judgment and infect their decision-making. You can see the hope draining from German with each passing minute, and Villagran makes his character just sympathetic enough that viewers will root for him despite their better instincts. Silvia is high-strung much from the jump, and Exposito steers her character into the hysteria.

Exposito and Villagran anchor the narrative, but the real star here is Bendala’s script. Bendala subtly manipulates his characters as their circumstances and decisions worsen. German and Silvia’s stories both start with them trying to do the right thing. German is just trying to get home, and Gloria and Silvia leave their guys behind when one gets too aggressive. They dig themselves into deeper holes with their decisions, but their choices are understandable. Bad results born of good intentions are especially bitter, deliciously so in this case.

Netflix When Angels Sleep review Trailers y Estrenos/YouTube

Even though the movie is tense, Bendala is a playful filmmaker and lets the audience in on the fun. There’s a point in the middle of the night where Silvia can’t get past a fence. The movie loops back in the morning to let Silvia see that she was just a few feet away from an unopened gate. German, of course, looks more psychotic every time he tries to fix something. Bendala also saves some of the fun for the small supporting cast. Between cops trying to let something slide to guys that don’t know when to quit, the movie’s darkly comic streak keeps things from getting too bleak.

When Angels Sleep won’t be entering the pantheon of “one bad day” movies alongside Die Hard, Speed, or Training Day. But it does have a clever script and propulsive direction, which more than justify the time investment. When I finished When Angels Sleep, I felt like I was back in 1999, leaving the showing of The Spy Who Shagged Me. Grab yourself a drink and fix up your hot dog however you like, then kick back and enjoy.  

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Eddie Strait

Eddie Strait

Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.