Judge Daryl Loomis is the monster under his own bed.
Someone is watching over you.
Over the last decade, director Jaume Balagueró has built a name for himself as one of the gems of foreign horror cinema. Between his ghostly thrillers (The Nameless, Darkness, and Fragile) and his found footage masterpiece ([REC]), few in the genre have put together a more consistently strong resume. Now, Balagueró tries his hand at a different kind of thriller, something more grounded in reality, and hits home once more.
Facts of the Case
César (Luis Tosar, Cell 211) leads a quiet lonely life as the concierge of a Barcelona apartment building. Through his life, he has found himself incapable of happiness and can only take solace in the fact that he's phenomenal at making other people's lives miserable. This time, he has his sights set on the lovely Clara (Marta Etura, Your Next Life), a resident whom he smiles at and chats with every morning in the lobby. Since he started working at the building, he has taken tiny steps to start bringing her down, but when she remains her sunny self, he starts to get obsessed, taking larger and more brutal steps to complete his quest to ruin her life.
Sleep Tight is an interesting kind of thriller that lays its cards on the table from the very beginning and still manages to come off unexpectedly. After a brief opening montage in which we see César rise and get ready for work, followed by the same from Clara, and a short monologue, it seems clear that the characters are a couple. Then, in the following scene, he greets her in the lobby like he barely knows her. Clearly, something is wrong here and it doesn't take us long to find out the problem.
In a satisfyingly measured fashion, Balagueró slowly reveals the deeply sinister nature of his character. Once we find out that Cé'sar is entering Clara's room and drugging her in her sleep, there's no question he is a villain. The extent to which he eventually goes to complete his goal is where the big reveal lays. Rather than show this to us in a traditional way, through the lens of the victim, we see the situation from his perspective.
As we spend time getting to know him, we see how deep his psychosis goes and Balagueró forces us to sit and watch while the character becomes increasingly obsessive and awful, powerless to do anything but implicated in his actions. Clara is just a normal person; the only thing she appears to have done wrong in César's eyes is her penchant for happiness. She's never been anything but kind to him and that, as much as anything, drives him crazy.
It's a strange perspective from which to tell a story, but Balagueró succeeds in making it work without playing some sick game with the audience, as Michael Haneke did in his Funny Games movies. Instead of daring the audience to continue watching in spite of the degradation being laid on characters we're supposed to care about, Balagueró gives us a character that we'd never want to follow, but whose obsession is so overwhelming that it's hard to take our eyes off of him.
Much of that falls at the feet of Luis Tosar, whose performance is compelling and incredibly strong throughout. He breathes life into César, making him no less despicable, but entirely human and oddly relatable. He's lonely, jealous, and deeply mean; there's little here for a viewer to latch onto, but the actor's realistic and consistent performance gives the character strength as both the film's lead character and villain in a way that's impressive to watch. Marta Etura deserves credit, as well, for her performance. Even if she doesn't have nearly the screen time as Tosar, her Clara has to be equally realistic for the story to work, and her bubbly, friendly personality is the perfect foil to César's dour, uncaring antagonism. This is especially true as her indefatigable happiness drives him mad. It's this frustration that moves the story forward and they deliver it perfectly as the situation becomes increasingly disturbed.
Balagueró holds a sure hand on the reins of Sleep Tight, which becomes a seriously suspenseful and surprisingly quiet thriller by the end. There is a little violence, but it's mostly psychological terror that drives the film and leaves nearly everything to the audience to wrestle with. The result is genuinely effective and satisfying thriller that is as strong as anything the director has previously made. Plus, the absence of direct horror will give it a broader appeal than his ghost and zombie movies. All around, Sleep Tight is a total success.
The Blu-ray release of Sleep Tight from Dark Sky is a mixed affair. Most disappointing is the 2.35:1/1080p transfer. The image isn't all bad and, in the brighter scenes, there is some good clarity and detail. The problem comes in the darker scenes, of which there are plenty. They are incredibly murky with black levels that very often look grey-green. It's terribly distracting, especially given that these are the scenes that carry much of the suspense. Thankfully, the 5.1 Master Audio sound mix fares much better than the picture. In general, Sleep Tight is a very quiet film, but the mix still manages to highlight subtly dynamic sound design. The music sounds great and the hushed dialog is consistently clear, making up in no small way for the subpar image.
There are only two extra features on the disc, but both are strong. The main feature is a long form featurette called "Sleep Tight: César's World." At nearly two hours, Balagueró and company go through every aspect of the production, from inception to finished product. We hear from all the main actors and much of the crew, with extensive looks at the music and sound of the film. It isn't the most engaging piece in the world, necessarily, but they leave few stones unturned and there's plenty of value in that. Next is thirteen minutes of deleted footage. None of it is essential to the story, but they add some background to César's character, showing him being a jerk to more people than just Clara, though would have taken focus off the matter at hand. Despite the problem with the image, this is still a quality overall package.
I'm not sure that Sleep Tight quite rises to a level of greatness, but it comes close. Balagueró's sure-handed direction and the pure strength of Tosar's performance make it a genuine surprise. This is a thriller of dark, quiet intensity that tells its story from a different perspective and really works. My issue with the image aside, this is a package I can highly recommend.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
• Deleted Scenes
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