Kyle Despiegler (center) in Night Sweats.
Kyle Despiegler (center) in Night Sweats.

FIlm review: Night Sweats

by / Feb. 12, 2020 8pm EST

David Cronenberg is not the worst model for a filmmaker looking to make a mark on a limited budget: Cronenberg’s own early features used their limitations to amplify a sense of nameless dread in the midst of seemingly ordinary situations. Debuting director Andrew Lyman-Clarke and his co-writer Seth Panman hit a lot of the right marks with their venereal horror thriller Night Sweats (beginning with that excellent title), though they run out of steam before an ending that doesn’t provide the intended frisson.

Yuri Burkin (Kyle Despiegler) is a young Midwesterner who has moved to Brooklyn to room with his old friend Jake while he looks for a job. A hook-up with Jake’s friend M. K. (Mary Elaine Ramsay) is going surprisingly well for Yuri when Jake spoils the mood with projectile vomiting and a seizure. (Don’t you hate when that happens?)

The interrupted couple gets Jake to the hospital, where he dies the next morning. When the medical examiner is baffled, Yuri decides to investigate matters himself. He starts with Jake’s employer, an oddball outfit called True Healing that somehow makes money videotaping volunteers’ memories of stressful points in their lives.

That True Healing is not what it seems is obvious even before an over-the-top tantrum by the cast’s only name actor, John Wesley Shipp as CEO Nick Frankenthaler. (No horror fan needs to be told to beware of scientists named “Franken”-anything.) Yuri uncovers a plot that the film’s producers claim was “inspired by true events,” though if pressed I can just hear them quoting Criswell in Plan 9 From Outer Space: “Can you prove that it didn’t happen?”

Shipp aside, the cast members are seldom required by the dry nature of the script to do more than remember their lines and not bump into the furniture. The twist ending isn’t entirely surprising (there’s a clue to it in an early scene), but it’s not very well supported by most of the movie, so it feels like a bit of a cheat. Maybe Lyman-Clarke and Panman should study some M. Night Shyamalan movies next time around.