From the man who co-directed the first two entries in the [Rec] horror franchise, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Balagueró now tries his hand at something a little less frightening – yet equally as disturbing – as we enter the deranged world of César (Luis Tosar) in Sleep Tight (Mientras duermes, 2011). Working as an apartment block concierge, César takes full advantage of his position, sneaking into the flat of beautiful tenant Clara (Marta Etura) almost nightly – with the unsuspecting victim having absolutely no idea. We begin with the image of César contemplating suicide, professing his deep unhappiness in what is a fruitless livelihood.
With a terminally-ill mother to care for, the troubled loner finds his only comfort is in lying still underneath Clara’s bed at night, waiting for her to fall asleep before using chloroform to send the vulnerable girl into a deeper slumber. Doing this on an almost nightly basis, César soon finds himself in a state of anxiety, as not only is the young neighbour Úrsula (Iris Almeida) aware of his guilty secret, but Clara’s boyfriend Marcos (Alberto San Juan) enters the fray.
Having done a fine job of portraying the mundanities of everyday life, Balagueró doesn’t pause for long before revealing César’s dark side, creating a tense atmosphere which remains harrowingly consistent throughout, in what is a hugely uncomfortable viewing experience. Such an atmosphere is enhanced by Balagueró’s almost Hitchcockian camerawork, as we voyeuristically follow Clara around her flat as though peeping in on her. Sleep Tight has that traditional horror technique implemented also, where we seek solace and relief in the daytime, whilst at night the suspense builds up again, and the use of music is brilliantly implemented, with an upbeat soundtrack consisting of popular American tracks.
The standout achievement within this feature, however, is that of Tosar, turning in a spectacularly sinister performance. With an unpredictable streak, there is something rather Norman Bates-like about him, particularly in his honest relationship with his dying mother, confiding all of his secrets to her. Given that Sleep Tight opens with a monologue by César, declaring his depressive state and suicidal thoughts, it instantly endears the audience to him – important, as it gets us on his side before his true character shows. The audience have an intimate relationship with him throughout, particularly when we see various shots of him in the shower, at his most vulnerable.
With unmistakable influence from contemporary Spanish masters of genre such as Pedro Almodóvar, particularly in the representation of women and how César looks up to his mother and perversely idolises Clara, complete with shades of 2002’s Talk to Her, Sleep Tight is a must-see psychological thriller. Balagueró has succeeded in constructing a hugely compelling narrative that has you completely transfixed from start to finish.