First published by LittleWhiteLies
Much like Jaume Balagueró’s telemovie Films To Keep You Awake: To Let and his shakicam shockers [Rec] and [Rec]2 (both co-directed with Paco Plaza), Sleep Tight (Mientras duermes) concerns characters locked in an apartment building with an unwelcome presence – only this time round, the focus is less on the perspective of the victims than of their persecutor, a frighteningly human kind of monster whose intrusive voyeurism (and worse) we are rather uncomfortably made to share.
Recently hired as concierge to an affluent residential block, César (Luis Tosar, in riveting form) cuts a depressive figure, incapable of happiness – but in the radiant Clara (Marta Etura), one of the few occupants who ever smiles at him, he has found a reason to go on living. Waking up by her side early in the morning, he sneaks out so as not to wake her, and heads downstairs to man the lobby desk, before heading out to visit his invalid mother (Margarita Roset) in hospital and tell her about his day and about Clara.
It will quickly emerge that all this is an illusion. His relationship with Clara is entirely one-sided, and when it is noticed at all, is certainly not welcome. He pesters her anonymously with ‘poison pen’ letters, emails and text messages, and sneaks into her room every night to drug her in her sleep, so that he can satisfy his errant desires unnoticed. Indeed, so slippery is this sociopath that viewers may even question whether the woman in hospital really is his mother, or is just some random mute patient that he has selected to victimise with his spiteful narratives.
It is an inestimably creepy set-up – reminiscent of the ‘lost’ John Carpenter thriller Someone’s Watching Me! (1978), the made-for-TV Through the Eyes of a Killer (1992), and of course The Resident (2010), released internationally in the same year as Balagueró’s film came out in Spain – and it somehow becomes even creepier as we realise that César’s objectives are not entirely sexual, even if he uses sex to attain them.
It is a cruel game of misanthropy and self-loathing that he is playing, and yet, as in The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), much of this film’s suspense comes with its own sadomasochistic quality, generated from the conflict between our revulsion at what César does, and our desire that he not be caught – despite the odds stacking against him.
So well-performed, finely crafted and classically constructed is Sleep Tight that it seems hard to accept that its every twist and turn is leading up to a chillingly sick joke – but in fact all these aspects, including the dark humour, contribute to its decidedly Hitchcockian flavour.
It is the kind of film that gets viewers simultaneously to thrill at the manner, sometimes calculated, sometimes improvised, in which its anti-hero effects his wayward plans, and to question nervously the trustworthiness of other people or the security of even their own beds. Viewers, especially although not exclusively female viewers, are unlikely to sleep tight after this.
Anticipation: The director of apartment horror [Rec] lodges in a different genre.
Enjoyment: Queasily sick, slickly suspenseful. Tosar is masterful.
In Retrospect: Forces us uneasily to share our intimate space with a sociopath.