November 8, 2012

Sleep Tight (2011)

(AKA Mientras duermes)

"You wake day after day to the comfort and security of your home. But how safe is it really?"

Directed by Jaume Balagueró, the half of the "[REC]" creators who didn't ruin the franchise, "Sleep Tight" is a solid Spanish thriller along the lines of "Hider in the House" (1989) but with more sadism and set in an apartment building in Barcelona. Unlike "[REC]", there are no weird exorcisms or rabid zombies here, just a balding concierge named César who gets his jollies by making other people miserable.

The main focus of César's unwanted attention is Clara, a sexy thirty-something played by Marta Etura. Her character's nickname, "Mimi", is undoubtedly an homage to Mimi Rogers, but they don't really look or act the same. For all of its originality as a Spanish movie, "Sleep Tight" is knowingly derivative of its American predecessors, but it's actually considerably better than all of them.

Luis Tosar plays César, the aforementioned concierge, with such charisma that it's impossible not to root for him instead of the people whose lives he destroys with his spiteful pranks. César starts out as an antihero rather than an outright villain, but where one ends and the other begins is hard to say.

Tormented by his own inability to experience happiness, César is a morbidly fascinating character much like dour comedian Jack Dee without any witty jokes. As a Brit, I found myself reminded of Jack Dee's TV show where he tried various things to make himself happy and they all failed. Thus, there are comedic touches to "Sleep Tight", of course, but they are the very sick and twisted kind.

As you can see in the trailer (above), César's escapades include hiding under the bed of his uber hot victim then sliding out and chloroforming her into total unconsciousness while she sleeps. At first, it seems to be the desperate act of someone who is lonely and wants a cuddle-buddy, but César's darker motives are revealed as the story progresses.

I'm not going to give away anything more, but when César starts altering Clara's beauty creams to cause an allergy and wipes cockroach eggs everywhere, it becomes very obvious that this isn't about unrequited love or some predictable case of revenge.

I will just say that I was torn between fancying Marta Etura (even more that I fiend for Belén Rueda) and hating everything normal that her character represents. I don't think that I'm quite as disturbed as César, but the voyeuristic tendencies of the film certainly caused me to empathise with him.

Everyone in "Sleep Tight" gives a fantastic performance, the characterisation is almost perfect, and the wit of the story really highlights how lazy American movies have become in comparison. I shouldn't need to add that it's all beautifully filmed, but given Jaume Balagueró's previous movies and the resurgence of faux "found footage" crap once again this year, I don't want you to confuse this with more of the same. "Sleep Tight" is a real movie with a script, real actors, a decent pace, and none of that shakycam nonsense.

Since it's a Spanish movie, I have no idea what the background is of any of the actors (other than the information available on the IMDb), but when the little girl who attempts to blackmail César is as outstanding as the other leads, you know that you're watching something special and a little bit more classy than usual. With a very respectable (estimated) budget of $16,000,000, it damned well should be as good as it is too.

I never thought I'd ever call a story of this nature "classy", but it really is. "Sleep Tight" may be as twisted as they come, but it's up there with Roman Polanski's apartment trilogy as far as I'm concerned.

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