Fantastic Fest 2011: ‘Sleep Tight’ demounstrates director Balagueró’s versatility

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Sleep Tight

Directed by Jaume Balagueró

Screenplay by Alberto Marini

2011, Spain

It’s no easy task to conduct a captivating, exhilarating film around an absolutely horrendous human being. But in his first follow up to the Rec films, Juame Balagueró not only pulls this off, but, in a nasty piece of filmmaking magic, implicates the audience by encouraging us to care about his troubled protagonist. Sleep Tight is both a tense, relentless thriller and an unsettling portrait of subdued madness.

César (Luis Tosar) cannot be happy. He says as much in Sleep’s opening voiceover as he stands at a rooftop’s edge. He’s a concierge at an upper crust apartment complex, but, despite being incapable of happiness, he goes about his work with dignified class. Clara (Marta Etura) is César’s polar opposite. She is a tenant in the apartment building and her happiness is insistent and contagious. And though César always seems pleased to see Clara, greeting folks and holding doors is not really César’s passion, as it were. No, it is his nighttime indiscretions that keep him from jumping off the nearest balcony. And that’s the vaguest way this reviewer can describe Sleep Tight.

There’s an end to that vagueness. From the opening scene, Sleep Tight is admirably restrained in its storytelling. Balagueró doesn’t so much tell a tale–he delicately unfolds it, piece by piece. If you’re a fan of horror, it should be enough for you to know that César isn’t spending his nights working another job. He is spending them doing bad things.

Tosar plays his part with masterful subtlety. His César is a respectful, often charming man, but his desperate unhappiness and unforgivable actions never seem like a stretch. Worse, he is, to a point, a sympathetic character. He is a troubled child in the body of a professional monster. Marta Etura is also very good at conveying Clara’s carefree attitude and persistent optimism. Clara may not be as complex of a character, but Etura gives her vibrant life.

Balagueró proves his versatility with this film. He delivers scene after scene of expertly orchestrated tension, but maintains a comic detachment that makes the film bearable and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Throughout it all, César is at the center of the film. And, insidiously, the tension here comes not from the threat to innocents, but from the threat that César will be exposed, justly, for the monster that he is. Sleep Tight may not make you feel like a very good person, but it is nevertheless a thrilling, fascinating horror film.

Emmet Duff

FantsticFest runs from September 22nd – 29th – visit their official website.

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