Written by: Alberto Marini
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró
Starring: Luis Tosar, Marta Etura and Alberto San Juan
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Someone is watching over you.
Jaume Balagueró seems determined to be this generation’s Roman Polanski, what with his obsession with revealing the horrors of apartment life. Along with Paco Plaza, he spawned the [REC] series, which turned a complex into the site of an apocalyptic viral outbreak; however, with Sleep Tight, he’s dialed things back to good old-fashioned, perverse voyeurism. Instead of an infected horde, there’s just a perverted doorman who’s out to creep on one of the building’s inhabitants. If you ever thought your landlord was an asshole, wait until you get a load of this guy.
Cesar (Luis Tosar) is the seemingly innocuous employee who hides a dark secret: due to his own issues, he has a penchant for making others miserable. He goes to extreme lengths to accomplish this, and he’s set his sights on Clara (Marta Etura), a young woman he interacts with every morning as she leaves the building. Unbeknownst to her, Cesar also has other means of spending time with her, as he slips into her apartment every night, drugs her, and has his way with the place. He starts by doing gross stuff like brushing his teeth with her tooth-brush and smearing his bodily fluids all over the place, but his behavior soon escalates and eventually spirals into violence.
Basically, this is the good version of The Resident; whereas that felt like Hammer’s first foray into Lifetime film-making, this one feels legitimately unsettling and even a little compelling. It doesn’t break a whole lot of ground from a narrative perspective, as it’s fairly straightforward, but Balaguero crafts it with a nice sense of suspense and escalation. Even though we know what Cesar is up to from the get-go, there’s a bizarre sort of intrigue in seeing just how far he’s going to go with it. The effect is a little uncomfortable, of course, but odd musical choices and clever edits produce some subtle black humor to offset things a bit. Given the source material, it seems like Sleep Tight should be completely grim and tough to watch, but Balaguero finds the right tone to make this a solid, entertaining little thriller.
The movie is completely framed as Cesar’s story, too, and it wastes no time in hiding his psychosis; he frequently contemplates suicide and the issues that have turned him into such a pathetic creature. He’s also a mama’s boy, of course, and he delights in revealing his sick habits to his near vegetative mother during his visits with her. Perhaps fittingly, Sleep Tight pulls the Psycho trick of twisting your sympathies to Cesar, as the suspense is often played up whenever he’s nearly discovered creeping about Clara’s apartment. Tosar’s performance actually makes Cesar more likeable than overtly weird, so you can often see the otherwise normal guy that’s concealing these dark secrets. I’m not sure it ever gets to the point where you want him to completely get away with it, but it comes pretty close to that, especially since Clara is purposely suppressed into the background.
Most movies would probably come at it from her perspective and would build up to the climactic moment where she discovers the pervert under her bed and delivers the comeuppance, but Balaguero and screenwriter Alberto Marini aren't interested in playing to such base expectations. Instead, he commits to a more challenging climax and resolution that doesn’t betray the movie he’s set up. Things take an even darker turn, so the stakes become higher as Cesar wriggles on a sharpening hook. At this point, it feels as though you’re watching to see just how far Balaguero will go once it becomes obvious that he won’t play things safe. Some moments—such as an interaction between Cesar and the little girl he’s blackmailed into secrecy—are legitimately frightening because he finally starts to unravel a little bit, and the effectiveness peaks to how impressively the director has lulled you into seeing him as a creep with psychological issues. It turns out that it’s much worse than that, after all.
I suppose Balageuro is contending with Adrián García Bogliano for the modern apartment horror crown; in this growing niche (which includes Cold Sweat and Penumbra), the [REC] series still reign supreme, but Sleep Tight is proof that Balaguero is capable of drumming up a completely different kind of film within the same confines. Whereas [REC] is balls-to-the-wall, this one is a little more measured (but no less gross—seriously, Cesar perpetrates some heinous, squirm worthy stuff). Maybe it’s also a little slight in comparison, but it works remarkably well as both a lurid horror movie and a fascinating character study. Sleep Tight was actually first released back in 2011, and it was one of the movies I could never find time for at Fantastic Fest; looking back on it, I wish I would have since it would have been among one of the better movies I saw that week. Thankfully, Dark Sky’s Blu-ray makes for a decent substitute, as the presentation captures the slick, moody cinematography well; the soundtrack is also solid for a film that’s often so quiet. A trailer and a feature called Cesar’s World serve as the lone extras, which doesn’t sound like much until you discover that the latter is actually a feature length documentary that details the film’s production. Dark Sky has quickly become a go-to label for recent indie horror, and Sleep Tight is another fine acquisition and release. Buy it!
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