Jaume Balaguero is best known as one of the co-directors of the fantastic and very successful “[REC]” films. For those unaware of the “[REC]” films (first of all, shame on you), they are a couple of brilliant P.O.V horror films, set in an enclosed apartment block, that initially started in the form of a zombie film but evolved into something else entirely by the end of the second film. Balaguero’s co-director for these films was fellow Spaniard Paco Plaza, and when the two of them decided to continue their popular horror franchise, they decided to tackle it differently this time with them directing one film each. Plaza’s film is a prequel entitled “[REC] 3: Genesis” while Balaguero’s entry is a sequel entitled “[REC] 4: Apocalypse”. At the time of this writing, Plaza’s film is set to hit Spanish theaters in the coming weeks, while Balaguero is currently prepping to begin shooting his film very soon. However, in between all of this, Balaguero has found the time to direct another feature film, the horror / thriller “Sleep Tight”.
Although I consider myself a big fan of Jaume Balaguero, the man has obvious talent, when looking through his filmography, it comes as a shock to realize that he has yet to create a film that really works perfectly. Again, I like all of his films (I suppose “Darkness” was a little lame), but there is something in each of them that holds them back from greatness. Probably his most successful is the super gory film he made for television titled “To Let”, and it is this film that “Sleep Tight” resembles the most however somewhat ironically, the gore is substituted for suspense here.
The film begins with Cesar waking up in bed after the alarm he had set on his watch has gone off. He carefully gets out of bed so as to not wake his sleeping partner. He showers, gets dressed, cleans his teeth and leaves his apartment, ready to go to work. It is a normal day, except there is nothing normal about this scenario at all. You see, this is not Cesar’s apartment and the girl in the bed is not his girlfriend. Worse, she has no idea that she has spent the night with this man in her bed. The girl is Clara and she actually lives in the hotel where Cesar works as concierge. Here he presents himself as a quiet man, a helpful and generous man who all the residents trust and adore. None of them are aware of the darkness that truly exists within Cesar and what exactly he is thinking and doing when they are all sleeping. Perhaps most frightening of all is the fact that Cesar has access to the keys for all the rooms in the hotel.
Compared to Cesar, Clara is his complete opposite. She has one of those bubbly personalities and always appears to be happy, and no matter what happens to her, she always seems to rise above it and find the good in it all. She is one of those “glass half full” kind-of girls. Right from the outset, we know that Cesar has something against Clara, but we are unsure exactly what it is. During the daytime when he is at work, he is very pleasant to her to the point that you would be excused for thinking they were friends, but when nighttime falls we find him under her bed, patiently waiting for her to fall asleep before he administers some chloroform to her nose ensuring she stays asleep and allowing him time to do whatever he wants to both her and her belongings. At first he appears quite placid doing little but sleep in the same bed as Clara, but Cesar’s plans are much darker than that and he really begins messing with Clara in earnest when he injects all of her cosmetics with an unknown substance, causing her skin to react quite badly to it. From here on in, Cesar’s antagonizing gets bolder and more sinister, not to mention more sadistic, but he always does it from the shadows. Clara never suspects him for a moment. However the arrival of Clara’s boyfriend soon throws a spanner into the works for Cesar because as the boyfriend does not know Cesar, he does not have the same level of trust towards him like the rest of the residents do. In fact it doesn’t take long for the opposite to happen, and Clara’s boyfriend is soon very suspicious of him. Suddenly it has got a lot more dangerous for all involved in this unspoken game.
“Sleep Tight” is another good film from Juame Balaguero but it suffers from quite a big flaw which is the immense unlikability of the story’s antagonist. I’m not sure if you are ever meant to really like this villain, but when the motive for Cesar’s crimes are finally revealed, you have an instant dislike towards him because he simply comes across as pathetic. [I’m now going to talk about Cesar’s motive, so if you don’t want this spoiled, please skip ahead to the next paragraph]. It turns out the sole reason Cesar does what he does is because he, himself, is unable to feel happiness and the only way he can find a certain “happiness” is if he makes the people around him miserable, thus they experience the same as what he is going through. Because Clara is almost a beacon of positive energy, she becomes the target for his torture. It is strange, but this comes across as incredibly mean-spirited. In horror films we are so used to seeing the villain stalking and killing their victims, and in reality murder is considered the most heinous of all crimes, yet in “Sleep Tight” our villain is not about killing (although he is not above that) rather he prefers to make his victim’s lives as unbearable as possible. Somehow this just feels much more chilling and disturbing, not to mention sadistic, than simple murder. What is interesting about the film is the fact that Cesar appears to have two victims, as he constantly visits his bed-ridden and paralyzed mother in her hospital bed and tortures her by recounting the stories of exactly what he has done to Clara. Looking at the poor woman’s face it is obvious to see that she is devastated by the cruelty of her son’s actions towards another human being.
We all feel safe in our own homes and “Sleep Tight” exploits a phobia that I am sure most of us can appreciate. The thought of anyone entering our place and going through our belongings is considered an extreme violation that would make most of us sick just thinking about it, but being violated ourselves at the same time would almost be unbearable. That is what makes the film so creepy because the whole time that Clara is being victimized she is none the wiser about it, until it is far too late. It is because of this that the film feels fresh and different from the horror norm, and why I believe the film is as successful as it is. As I mentioned earlier, “Sleep Tight” relies more on suspense rather than the inclusion of blood and guts (although there is one rather bloody scene towards the end) and the suspense scenes are handled brilliantly by Balaguero. The childhood fear of someone waiting for you under your bed is another phobia that is exploited to perfection. In regards to performances, both of our main actors are strong with Luis Tosar especially chilling as Cesar, but I must say that I really enjoyed his performance when he was doing his duties as concierge, because he was really charming and it was easy to see how the residents could trust this man so readily. Marta Etura as Clara is beautiful to look at (love her smile) and she has a lovely presence on screen making it very easy to care about her character.
Overall, Jaume Balaguero has crafted a strong feature with “Sleep Tight” and it ranks as one of his best. While it is very mean-spirited, and this may turn a lot of people off, at least it is a somewhat fresh take on a genre that too often accepts mediocrity. All I have left to say now is…………..Bring on “[REC] 4”.