Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight

There’s slashers, serial killers and then there’s villains of an altogether more disturbing nature like that of Sleep Tight, a deeply disquieting Spanish psychological oddity that sets in slowly and builds to a devastating payoff. In a sunny Barcelona apartment building, life seems breezy and pleasant. Friendly concierge César (Luis Tosar) greets the tenants kindly every day and does his job dutifully. Little do any of them know, César is a misanthropic, mentally disfigured lunatic whose very mission in life is to covertly make the lives of everyone around him thoroughly miserably because, as he tells us in forlorn inner monologues, he is physiologically incapable of feeling happiness. What does this involve? Well for starters, sneaking rotten fruit into the back of fridges, feeding an old woman’s dog the wrong kind of food to give it the shits, watering rooftop plants at the hottest time of day to kill them and piss off the building’s owner, small petty stuff like that. However, a beautiful young woman (Marta Etruria) living in one of the suites has a sunny disposition that isn’t so easy to breach and he goes to some skin crawling, abominably sociopathic measures to do so. The film chooses to focus on César as a protagonist rather than have him skulking about in the shadows like the villain usually does, so what we get is something that feels like a twisted character study as opposed to outright horror, but that structural augment doesn’t stop this from being one of the most upsetting experiences you could have. César is a sick, sick man and despite how intimate the script allows us to get with him, he’s never likeable, relatable or in any way justified, no inspires sympathy at all in these horrible actions like some black sheep characters in film. Tosar (who I remember as the intense Cuban drug lord in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice) is a stark looking dude, whose severely receding hairline has apparently migrated downward into eyebrow territory for a very, shall we say, otherworldly appearance. He’s great in the role, opaquely amicable on the surface but we can see the malformed creature inside just through his coal burner eyes. Director Jaume Balagueró also made on of my favourite underrated horror films, 2004’s Darkness with Anna Paquin. He knows how to use light, shadow, oppressive architecture and eccentric character traits to create a believably creepy atmosphere with shades of Hitchcock and classic thrillers of the like. This is an expertly told, beautifully produced original story and well worth watching but word of warning, it’s not roses and sunshine. This is a grim tale of a terminally unpleasant, incurably mentally ill monster who commits sustained acts of shocking menace and perverted exploitation that culminate in a sickening final reveal that will have the bile rising in your throat. But it’s not without its charms either, including terrific character work, picturesque production design and splashes of pithy black humour. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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