Beyond me, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of the rapidfire horror [REC], a top-tier entry in both the found-footage and quasi-zombie sub-genres. Its sequel, while rarely matching the intensity of the first, was still one of the more worthy sequels here in horror land. So, I came to director Jaume Balagueró’s latest film, Sleep Tight, with an unhinged form of glee, and found my expectations wildly dashed. Though I didn’t sleep tight after watching it, it definitely wasn’t due to an abundance of heart-pounding excitement.
Watching Sleep Tight for a second time, freed from my early expectations, allowed me to accept the film as it was intended, as a slow boiling creep fest destined to make viewers second-guess the assumed loyalty of anyone with access to their personal life. Conversely, without the motivation to believe that everything I’m seeing is a mystery, than this stripped down alternative take on a different sort of revenge thriller. Sleep Tight is one of those rare films I see where I feel like it’s my fault I didn’t like it more. While it disappointed me, it’s hardly a disappointment in general, and it obviously places far above the plethora of Hollywood’s “The Something-tion” flicks being churned out, usually involving demonic or ghostly possessions. This is kind of how I feel about most biopic films, actually. And I certainly hope Sleep Tight isn’t based on anyone in particular.
Cesar (Luis Tosar) is an apartment building concierge who is the most disturbing handyman since Schneider from One Day at a Time. His job allows him into the lives of the apartment tenants, and while some of these acquaintanceships are genial, Cesar’s personal distaste for everything and inability to attain personal happiness has created within him an anonymous monster bent on driving those around him insane. His latest “project” is Clara (Marta Etura), a beautiful, carefree woman who proves a tougher victim than most for Cesar’s miserable ways.
Cesar’s tactics for mentally debilitating Clara are truly dastardly, and those are some of the more harrowing scenes of within the drama. Not to throw out spoilers, but the film’s title gives you a good idea of when these sub-tortures are taking place. As Clara’s smile refuses to fade, Cesar must up the ante, and his uncomfortably wicked actions escalate until the film’s mental gut-punch of an ending. The sudden appearance of Clara’s boyfriend Marcos (Alberto San Juan) adds even more breath-holding tension, and we have what should be a real grinder of a motion picture.
Only these scenes are peppered in between a lot of others that don’t really add anything to the fairly straightforward story. Cesar’s insistence on unraveling Clara’s life is causing his own to fray at the edges, but he obsessively pushes forward, oblivious to consequence, all the while verbally harassing his bed-ridden mother with how miserable he is. These are normal villainous techniques, especially when aided by an equally obsessive approach to routine behavior, but films don’t usually follow the villain for the entire time, so by painting Cesar’s motivations onto a blank canvas in order to create suspense, Balagueró presents us with a one-note character whose heinousness, while very disturbing, is never bombastic enough to gleefully root against or cheer for. He’s just the rather mundane guy you really, really don’t want fixing your refrigerator.
This is the movie to watch if you’ve ever wanted to vicariously live through Single White Female’s Hedra Carlson, only without expecting her life to be exciting or anything. It’s quality direction from Balagueró, and classy acting from Tosar and Etura, but Alberto Marini’s screenplay seems to just tell one part of a story I’d really like to watch.
This Blu-ray treatment of Balagueró’s return to non-found footage lacks all amounts of glitz, giving the setting and characters a stark beauty and agelessness that compliments the dark tone perfectly. The sound design, escalating in complexity between spans of silence, is also a top tier effort.
The sound, both the orchestral-turned-electronic score and the actual art are covered in full for the impressively detailed “Cesar’s World,” which clocks in at 1 hour and 47 minutes--longer than the film itself. So yes, there is a lot of overlapping information in here that could have been left out, but it’s still quite immersive into every single process that went behind making Sleep Tight. I was intrigued to know they actually cut most of the first act out of Marini’s screenplay to get right to the meat of the story, as well as some other story edits before filming began. So, maybe I would like to see that part of the story, and then I can realize how wrong I was. Most of the major scenes are discussed and production footage is played. It encompasses everything, truly.
The only other feature we have here are a handful of deleted scenes, most involving Cesar and other characters. It appears a sub-sub-plotline involving a woman’s locket was excised, but nothing too pivotal shows up here.
There’s no denying this is as definitive a release as a small thriller like this is going to get. It looks great, sounds great, and has a feature-length documentary to go along with it. Fans will rejoice. I, on the other hand, will be going back to that other apartment building and the video cameras.