Sleep Tight

Screened at the 2012 Fantasia Film Festival

Jaume Balaguero’s Sleep Tight is a feature-length illustration of the principle that misery loves company — that unhappy people treat happiness as a zero-sum game, raising their own spirits by making others miserable. It’s an enduring truth made bluntly literal by this thriller about a Barcelona building super whose only source of joy is wiping the smiles off the faces of the posh, cheery tenants he has to serve. His campaign is multi-pronged and sometimes subtle, but his primary target is Clara, the beautiful and seemingly irrepressible young woman on the 5th floor.

Balaguero came to prominence with [REC], the Spanish found-footage sensation that was remade in the States as Quarantine; he attempted an American crossover with the underrated supernatural thriller Darkness. The versatile filmmaker approaches Sleep Tight as a grim, methodical procedural told from the point of view of the villain, who sneaks around unseen executing his increasingly elaborate plots as we wait with bated breath for something to go wrong. It’s suspenseful stuff, filmed with a lush, old-fashioned professionalism, occasionally leavened with some gallows humor. (A precocious young girl in the building has Cesar figured out and blackmails him; he sabotages the special diet of a kind old lady’s dog.) But the emotional stakes are a little low. We can only get so engaged in the exploits of a guy who’s basically just being a douchebag.

The most intriguing part of Sleep Tight is Cesar’s visits with his hospitalized mother, whom he regales with the stories of his various schemes. At first I thought she was a co-conspirator, but no: at one point, she loses consciousness and Cesar physically turns her face toward him and keeps talking. This, we realize, is how he tortures her; how deep his bitterness and ill-will runs. That part of the story might have made a more interesting film.

Eugene Novikov

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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