I occasionally find myself wondering if any of the current generation of horror movies might ever be held up as classics in the same way that my generation views the likes of John Carpenter’s Halloween or Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. More often than not the answer is no, but I believe there is a definite case to be made for Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s Spanish found footage zombie flick [REC], one of very few films of recent years to, a) scare me silly, and b) produce a worthy and expansive sequel.
Inbetween the first sequel and the upcoming final entry in the [REC] series, the duo have separated to take on projects of their own. Plaza has chosen to continue plowing the undead farrow with his peculiar but enjoyable splat-stick sequel/spin off [REC] 3: Genesis. Balagueró’s new movie however, ignoring the familiar setting of a Madrid apartment building, is a very different proposition indeed.
Sleep Tight centres on the day-to-day activities of a lonely and largely ignored building superintendent named César (Luis Tosar). By day he tends to the requests of the building’s various residents. By night he lays next to the drugged and unconscious body of Clara (Marta Etura), a resident with whom César has developed a powerful, all consuming obsession.
The nature of the story immediately sets Sleep Tight poles apart from the savage zombie flick that made Balagueró’s name. Where that movie was raw and immediate, Sleep Tight is wonderfully controlled and elegant, brimming with near unbearable tension and quiet menace. The source of much of this tension is an unusual one. While most horror/thrillers that centre on a deranged stalker will tend to give greater or, at least, equal consideration to the victim, Sleep Tight focuses pretty much entirely on César, with his victim Clara remaining only faintly sketched. It’s an interesting variation on a well worn theme, the audience watches César while César watches Clara, seeing her only as he sees her (or indeed the attributes he projects upon her), it’s not just voyeuristic, there’s an inherent level of complicity that comes with the territory too, as César proves to be one of the most peculiarly likeable horror movie psychos since Hannibal Lector. It’s not simply that he’s downtrodden and ignored. It’s not purely that he’s the movie’s focus either. He’s a genuinely witty and fascinating character who’s just as likely to produce a wry smile as an uncomfortable shudder.
With the wrong actor in place, César would have been a totally unsympathetic monster, with the wonderful Luis Tosar in the role he becomes an unexpected delight. Between them Tosar and Balagueró mine a rich vein of dark, spiky, often spiteful humour that beautifully compliments the movie’s atmosphere of brooding tension. Much like Balagueró, Tosar’s role here is a very dramatic shift from the one he is perhaps best known for, the towering and terrifying Malamadre in prison riot drama Cell 211. Where, in that film, his character was defined by being larger than life and known to all, César is that character’s total opposite, a man who has has either chosen to be invisible, or already was and used it to his sinister advantage. It’s a genuinely miraculous performance, nuanced, fascinating and always sympathetic, with truly sublime, killer comic timing. The rest of the cast play their parts perfectly, but they are wisely sidelined to a degree so the audience can view them as César does, to be objectified or idealised rather than known.
The screenplay is fantastic too, not just in terms the brilliantly brutal dialogue and meticulous character development, but in its brilliant subversion of expectations, it takes great delight in wrong-footing the viewer, but does it smartly in a way that is always totally organic to both story and characters.
As for any negatives, there is perhaps a very slight dip in pace around the halfway mark, but it doesn’t last enough to truly upset the flow of the story, it’s hardly even worth mentioning in fact.
Sleep Tight is quite easily my favourite movie of the year so far, a wonderfully witty, tense piece of character driven suspense cinema with a director and lead actor on truly glorious form. I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough.
Sleep Tight is in cinemas 1st march 2013.
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Stars: Luis Tosar, Marta Etura, Alberto San Juan
Runtime: 102 min