Friday, January 01, 2021

Insomnia: Russian Fun & Games

This is Moscow, where everything goes. No matter how wild the game might be, there is always a big enough palm to grease. Logically, this is where an annual real-life gladiatorial betting extravaganza takes place. Some of the players sort of suspected what they were in for, whereas others did not. Either way, they must kill all their rivals to be the final winner in Slava N. Jakovleff & Ilya Kulikov’s eight-episode Insomnia, which starts streaming today on Crackle.

Contestants in the Insomnia game get a car, a gun, one bullet, and shot of a drug that will make their hearts stop if they fall asleep. That last part was a nasty surprise to everyone, but some were expecting the kill-or-be-killed rules. The frontrunners are the Russian hitman, the American Special Ops vet with the heavy Russian accent, the ex-cop tarnished by controversial shooting, and a massively creepy sexual predator. The dark horses include a sixteen-year-old girl who is so dull and expressionless, she must harbor some kind of strange secret. The wild card has to be Ken, a former Insomnia employee thrust into the game. Weirdly, he is not so shocked to be there (but none too thrilled either).

It all unfolds as the fat-cat VIPs watch from a luxury hospitality suite. This year, Marina Croft will also be there. She is taking the place of her late mogul husband, who just died in a suspicious plane crash. As she watches Insomnia unfold with a mixture of horror and fascination, she starts to suspect her husband’s death might be related to the blind bet he placed on Lea, the boring girl.

Insomnia is like a cross between Crank and any one of the dozens of involuntary online bloodsport thrillers, like Guns Akimbo or the dreadful 31. In this case, Jakovleff and Kulikov mix in a bit of Lost, by revealing hidden player connections through flashbacks, which helps a lot. It is a bit embarrassing to confess, but Insomnia is addictive, much like the reprehensibly voyeuristic game it depicts.

Pasha D. Lychnikoff is a major reason why the series is s watchable as it is. Playing Russian thugs is his specialty, so the kind of smirking, snarling, and scenery chewing
Insomnia needed is right in his wheelhouse. Basically, he is the pro-wrestler of the series, yelling into the camera, “I’m coming for you,” while keeping his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

Mercifully, Latvian thesp Ingeborga Dapkunaite gives the series a remotely human touch as the Widow Croft. She might be in over her head, but she still portrays her as a strong woman, with some kind of moral compass. It is also fun to watch Karen LeBlanc scheming and sneaking about as Karen, another Insomnia employee trying to help her lover, Ken.

Nsomnia is pretty cheesy and sleazy stuff, but it is also insidiously hooky. Presumably, Jakovleff and Kulikov have a second season in mind, because a lot of “convenient” stuff happens to tie-up loose ends in the final episode. Regardless, it deserves some credit for depicting the wholesale corruption of the FSB. Recommended as the low-brow entertainment it is, Insomnia premieres today (1/1) on Crackle (after being available in Russia for a few years).