Monday, April 6, 2015

Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermes) (2011)


Spanish filmmaker Jaume Balagueró, the helmer of such horror films as the excellent Rec (2007) and the hilariously bad Fragile (2005), dabbles with the voyeur thriller genre this time around and proves that with the right material he can pull off a reasonably taut and disturbing nail-biter.

"Sleep Tight" (2011) is as dark as they come. A creepy-looking, balding and thick-browed Cesar (Luis Tosar) is popular with the occupants of the apartment building where he works as a concierge. He is the ultimate helping hand, the friendly neighbourhood fixer, who would tend to the nice old lady's dogs, fix clogged drain pipes, water plants, and deliver mails among other things. With his convenient presence, he has won over most of the tenants.

But little do they know that there is sickness brewing within and Cesar is really up to no good. Behind those kind gestures is a psychopathic mind at work, out to make life miserable for others, for Cesar is a depressed loner who doesn't know what it is like to be happy. Misusing their trust, he is quietly executing his malicious little plan of creating trouble for the tenants. 

His prime target is the comely young Clara (Marta Etura), who is blissfully unaware that Cesar actually enters her apartment each night, and engages in subtle mischief, including spiking her cosmetics with irritants and even going so far as to molest her as she sleeps, after administering chloroform on her! Life goes on, Clara wakes up all groggy, not realizing why she oversleeps. And in the meanwhile, Cesar is also sending her anonymous hate mail, sometimes with lewd content.

Cesar's malevolent mission appears to develop cracks when the preteen girl Ursula (Iris Almeida) who is on to his sickening deeds raises her price for keeping her mouth shut, and Clara's boyfriend Marcos (Alberto San Juan) gives them a surprise visit.

Balagueró is in assured form here and maintains a firm grip on the material. The casting of Luis Tosar is perfect, in the sense, his very appearance makes us sense something creepy and sinister lurking beneath that smiling exterior. While Tosar's assumed gentlemanly mannerisms exude a kind of warmth, he follows it up quickly by a nuanced change of expression that would make you loathe the guy! 

At various junctures, Cesar's voiceover narrates his worthless state of being, and the desire to give meaning to his life. He regularly visits his old mother who appears to have lost her speech, and updates her about his developments. This is a welcome move, for it adds some kind of mystery to Cesar's motivations. Apart from his obvious pathological state of mind, one can't help but think of a class conflict angle, a la Claude Chabrol's "La Ceremonie" (1995), although this can only be inferred.

In many ways, Cesar's character and the film itself, brings to mind Hitchcock's famous "Psycho" (1960). And why not, considering there's a caretaker/concierge with voyeuristic tendencies, and even an old mother that's mostly there to mystify! In fact, "Sleep Tight" has Hitchcockian written all over it. Balagueró manages to build and keep the tension intact, with an interesting character, and an unsettling, claustrophobic atmosphere of an apartment building. What adds to the scare element considerably, is the fact that the most trusted man, the caretaker, the protector, is actually an antagonist, a trope used to a great effect in Kubrick's "The Shining" (1980). 

Unlike Kubrick's classic however, in an amazing twist to the proceedings, much to our surprise, Balagueró successfully manoeuvres us into rooting for Cesar when he is danger of being caught red-handed. It's a masterstroke that actually makes us skip a beat for a guy who disgusts us for most of the film! The suspense is killing in the said scene and it's a sequence very deftly handled, hardly insulting the viewer's intelligence, as is the case in most such situations.

It's a pity however, that in an attempt to manipulate the script to darker territories, Balagueró and crew resort to the stupid person syndrome; that age old cliché in which there's always at least one character who has to behave in a manner so dumb, as to invite obvious harm. Thankfully there aren't too many such moves and distraction is provided in the form of an ultraviolent, blood-soaked final half hour, complete with a tub and shower, again, reminding of "Psycho" (1960). It is the kind of stuff that will please the gorehounds and disturb the hell out of the squeamish.

It would've been better, had the film not entered slightly melodramatic territories in the culmination, but everything that precedes it successfully keeps us engrossed and thrilled. Balagueró also makes us aware and provides food for thought, albeit in a rather harsh way, about the sad reality of those who are lonely and aging. As Cesar puts it quite bluntly to an old lady in a chilling fashion: "There's no remedy for it"!

Obviously inspired by the Hitchcock brand of suspense, "Sleep Tight" is a terrific psychological thriller well worth your time for its absorbing screenplay and a cracker of a lead performance. 


Score: 8/10








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