Director – Jaume Balagueró
Cast – Luis Tosar, Marta Etura, Alberto San Juan, Petra Martinez, Iris Almeida
Release Year – 2013 (2011 Fantastic Fest)
Reviewed by John of the Dead
When word hit that REC/REC2 co-director/writer Jaume Balaguero had a new film debuting I was beyond ecstatic and graciously accepted the opportunity to see Balaguero’s most recent film, Sleep Tight. This time taking a departure from the REC films that made him famous, the film’s story is a sad and sometimes slow experience that relies heavily on atmosphere and character-study to move the viewer and keep him/her entertained. Most of us can appreciate a breath of fresh air when a director separates himself from the filmmaking style he has become known for (even though he made films like this before the REC flicks), and Balaguero fans should be excited to see just what the guy can do when he wants to do it.
Lurking quietly amongst the tenants of a typical Barcelona apartment building, doorman/concierge Cesar (Luis Tosar) is hiding a dark secret: his biggest desire in life is to make others unhappy. When he sets his sights on one of the building’s cheeriest tenants, Clara, his despicable desire soon erupts into a full-fledged obsession. Now the literal boogeyman hiding under her bed and bringing her biggest fears to life, his love for torment soon forces him to cross the line into complete lunacy, and his thirst for others’ sadness also becomes manically unquenchable.
I was not sure what to expect going into this piece, but I had hopes that Balaguero would deliver a good experience and he did just that. The story comes written by Romasanta: The Werewold Hunt (directed by REC co-creator Paco Plaza) writer Alberto Marini and I applaud him for giving us a character-study horror story that fit to Balaguero’s directing style. We follow Cesar for the extreme majority of the film as he portrays himself to be the kind and caring concierge that every tenant knows and loves, but secretly finds extreme joy in making their lives harder to live. When a tenant asks him for a favor he graciously accepts, yet does his very best to make them pay for their request. Eventually he takes a liking to Clara, and we watch as he spends every night with her doing something horrible to her. He either drugs her and has his way with her, puts rash-causing ointments on her face, or does terrible things to her apartment that will put fear on her face in the morning. He manages to do this without bringing too much attention to himself, and when attention is brought upon him he masterfully finds a way out of trouble every time. The story is never really scary and most of the “horror” lies in what he does to the tenants and especially to Clara, which to me was quite horrific given she had no clue her problems were not natural but artificially caused by a madman sleeping under her bed.
Director Jaume Balaguero once again shows us why he is one of the genre’s premier directors. He expertly crafts this experience into one that slowly haunts the viewer and shows just how capable someone could be to do the horrible things Cesar does to his tenants, and especially to Clara – without any of them suspecting anything regarding foul play. His atmosphere sets the tone and he employs positive sets to sell the story to us. Actor Luis Tosar was incredible and effectively sold his role to the viewer as a kind gentleman with secrets and a maturity level that mimics a trouble-thrilled teenager. Balaguero’s execution of the horror provided added much tension to the film, which surprised me given this is not a film meant to outrightly scare you like Balaguero’s other works. This one slowly troubles you until its haunting conclusion that’ll leave you wondering how safe you really are in your own home.
Overall, Sleep Tight is a good character-study horror film that offers a new experience for fans of Jaume Balaguero’s work. The story moves well and slowly envelops the viewer into a haunting atmosphere of tension and terror. Sleep Tight is not overly scary and it never intends to be that type of film, but it makes for another solid entry from one of the genre’s best directors.