Spain's Jaume Balagueró is one of the best horror/suspense directors you don't know, his widest exposure in the US coming from the 2005 Anna Paquin film Darkness
-- although his global claim to fame is more for co-helming REC
and REC 2
. His résumé, however, is filled with equally awesome lesser-known movies, including Fragile
, The Nameless
and To Let
, making him one of the few genre directors to hit a home run (or at least a triple) on his first six feature films. And now, with Sleep Tight
, he attempts to go seven for seven.
César (Luis Tosar) is a concierge in a Barcelona apartment building whose mild-mannered, accommodating demeanor masks internal turmoil. All his life, he's been wracked with depression, considering himself incapable of happiness. The only thing that keeps him going is knowing that others are also unhappy. Taking schadenfreude to the extreme, he uses guerilla tactics to bring a little slice of misfortune to all of the building's residents on a regular basis -- from failing to water one tenant's plants to feeding rich food to another's sickly dog.
But he saves his most extreme sabotage for Clara (Marta Etura), a perpetually cheery tenant who becomes his white whale. Nothing, from sending her threatening letters to destroying her belongings to tainting her toiletries, seems to put Clara in a foul mood, and an increasingly frustrated César is forced to ramp up his efforts to alarming levels -- beginning with crawling under her bed at night and drugging her while she sleeps.
The End Result
Luis Tosar in 'Sleep Tight'.© MPI/Dark Sky
is a bit far-fetched, but if you buy into the fascinating concept, it's a consistently engaging film whose tension slowly builds to shocking levels. Although on the surface it resembles Hillary Swank's tepid "obsessed landlord" pic The Resident
, Sleep Tight
presents an intriguing twist on the typical "fatal attraction"
scenario by having the psychopath (or perhaps more accurately, sociopath) attempt to repulse his target. Interestingly, though, for all the torment he hurls at Clara, César comes to become dependent on her. Every failed attempt to break her spirit means another night he gets to spend under her bed, plotting his next move. His pursuit of her keeps him from giving into his depression and jumping off the roof. Writer Alberto Marini, who co-wrote Balagueró's similarly themed landlord-from-Hell story To Let
, does a good job of allowing us to feel flashes of anxiousness for the otherwise irredeemable César, and -- intended or not -- I even found myself losing sympathy for Clara as time went on, because she's so densely unaware of the danger the audience has seen from the start.
It's dark stuff that only gets darker as it goes along, but those looking for scares should know it's not that type of movie. It's creepy, but in a disturbing way, not a scary way. Though it lacks the supernatural element of many of Balagueró's previous efforts, Sleep Tight follows his penchant for single-setting storylines (the REC films taking place almost exclusively in an apartment building, Darkness in a haunted house and Fragile in a haunted hospital) and features his always taut direction, even if the smaller, more realistic scale lacks the dynamic visual potential of some of his other films.
- Acting: B (The two leads are excellent.)
- Direction: B (Attractively lensed, with expertly doled out tension.)
- Script: B- (A fascinating concept with a memorable, unique antagonist; the ending is a bit of a downer.)
- Gore/Effects: C+ (One gory scene; few other effects needed.)
- Overall: B- (An original, engrossing thriller that may leave you wanting to take a shower.)
Sleep Tight is directed by Jaume Balagueró and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: October 26, 2012.