Daniel Green FrightFest

FrightFest 2012: ‘Sleep Tight’ review

★★★★☆
One of the stand-out films of this year’s Film4 FrightFest, Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight (Mientras duermes, 2011) is an incredibly nuanced Spanish chiller, featuring a magnificent central performance from Luis Tosar. With nods to voyeuristic classics such as Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) and Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), Balagueró proves himself an astute director, building an impending sense of threat whilst leaving our protagonist’s motivations open to interpretation. Tosar plays Barcelona apartment concierge César, a reserved loner who spends his evenings infiltrating the flat of attractive tenant Clara (Marta Etura).

After putting his ‘victim’ into a drugged state with the use of chloroform, César begins his nightly reign of terror – firstly contaminating Clara’s cosmetic products before turning his hand to more disturbing acts. Throughout, our protagonist remains staunch in his convictions, his crimes committed out of some obscure lust for vengeance. However, as his abusive letters and text messages begin to be tracked back to the block, César is forced to more and more drastic measures in order to fulfil his promise of revenge.

Balagueró, co-director of found footage zombie outings [Rec] (2007) and [Rec] 2 (2009) (alongside Paco Plaza), demonstrates a sound understanding of cinematic conventions to carefully construct this adaptation of Alberto Marini’s source text. Framing is consistently tight throughout, keeping us centralised on the sociopathic César and his morally-dubious nocturnal activities. Yet incredibly, we never find ourselves positioned completely against the creepy concierge. Far closer to anti-hero than antagonist, we’re slowly drawn into his intricate schemes, even fearing that he’ll one day be caught.

Tosar is quite simply exceptional as the ever-watching César, building upon impressive past performances in colonialism parable Even the Rain (2011) and prison drama Cell 211 (2009). This latest turn is easily his finest to-date, imbuing this seemingly sinister loner with heart, intelligence and a clear (if arguably delusional) moral code of ethics. In support, Etura does exactly what she needs to to – divide the audience’s loyalties. Her vivacious demeanour makes it all the more difficult to dissect exactly why César is so intent on bringing about her destruction. The threads are there, but Balagueró respectfully leaves his audience to string everything together.

Unlike a great deal of dumb, exploitative ‘horrors’ that have slightly tarnished the FrightFest brand this year, Sleep Tight is a bona fide cult classic in the making. Twice as complex and well-shot as the majority of other features on show (with perhaps the exception of Peter Strickland’s breathtaking Berberian Sound Studio [2012]), Balagueró’s unnerving character study thankfully restrains from revealing its full hand until the very last shot – a satisfying conclusion to an intense, atmospheric spine-tingler.

From 23-27 August, CineVue will be reporting back from this year’s Film4 FrightFest with a bucket-load of gruesome reviews. For more of our festival coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green