‘Sleep Tight’ is director Jaume Balaguero’s first venture outside the horror canon. It’s a brilliant suspense thriller in the style of Polanski and Hitchcock, and it’s my favourite film of the festival. Go see it before Hollywood decides we can’t read subtitles and neuters it by producing a pointless remake.

In its Spanish homeland, ‘Sleep Tight’ was originally called ‘Mientras Duermes’. That  translates into English as ‘While You Sleep’ – a much more apt and chilling title in my opinion and I wish they’d kept it, but there you go…

Cesar (Luis Tosar) is a concierge at an upmarket apartment building in Barcelona. He’s a quiet and unassuming man who lives alone, is polite with everybody, and always happy to do the residents a good turn – like feed their dogs when they’re not around, even though he doesn’t exactly feed them what the owners were expecting.

But that’s nothing compared to the campaign of subtly escalating terror that he puts Clara (Marta Etura) through although, when we first see them together, as Cesar climbs gently out of Clara’s bed to begin his day while the beautiful Clara lies soundly sleeping beside him, we’d be forgiven for thinking they’re a couple. An odd couple, maybe. Clara is vivacious and full of life, turns her music up loud and dances around her apartment, whereas Cesar is incapable of feeling any happiness whatsoever. The story opens with him standing on the edge of the rooftop, contemplating his suicide.

But we quickly learn, when Clara emerges from the magnificent art deco elevator and greets Cesar as she leaves for work the next morning, that she is completely unaware he has been sharing her bed. She’s also unaware, when she tells him that her sink’s blocked and asks if he can check it out, that he blocked it himself.

Clara is Cesar’s obsession and, while Clara sleeps, Cesar has been indulging that obsession in some very twisted ways. It’s going to get worse and Cesar’s daylight attempts to get Clara to notice him will get very imaginative. One attempt in particular will make our skin crawl as much as Clara’s.

Except Cesar’s got a problem. The little girl who lives opposite Clara’s apartment has seen him come and go during the night, and is blackmailing him for her silence. Right now, as the story starts, she’s into him for a handful of euros. Pretty soon, it will be a porn film. Soon, the price will escalate and Cesar knows he has to find a permanent way to sort the tiny extortionist out.

And then there’s the small matter of the police, who are investigating the obscene letters and phone calls that Clara’s been receiving and are about to triangulate them down to someone living in her apartment building.

And, finally, there’s Clara’s boyfriend (Alberto San Juan) who arrives unexpectedly and badly upsets Cesar’s nocturnal routine.

‘Sleep Tight’ is a masterpiece. Jaume Balaguero – who is probably best know in the UK for co-directing the first two [REC] movies with Paco Plaza (during the after-film Q & A he confirmed he’s currently developing the fourth) – knows that the human monster is the scariest of all, and he, screenwriter Alberto Marini and actor Luis Tosar have created an excellent monster in Cesar. He’s the kind of man nobody would ever suspect, in fact it’s difficult not to feel sympathy for him when we see how badly he’s being treated by his employer and how – with the exception of the gorgeous Clara, and the desperately lonely Sra. Veronica, whose only companions are her two beloved little dogs – everyone else seems to take him for granted, not even noticing him as they pass by his desk.

All the performances are excellent, and it came as quite a surprise when Balaguero told us that Tosar and Etura were a real-life couple during the making of the film. They inhabit their characters so completely. The story has some terrific twists and turns, and Cesar’s ingenuity in escaping blame for his crimes is nothing short of brilliant. There’s a particularly clever and heart-stopping scene when he inadvertently anaesthetizes himself and wakes up, groggy and displaced, beneath Clara’s bed with Clara and her boyfriend lying above him. How does he escape before they notice? Does he escape? I’m not telling you. But it’s one of the tensest scenes I’ve watched in a long time and, even in this one sequence, Balaguero and Marini manage to keep turning up the jeopardy in very unexpected ways.

As for the ending – the twist in the tale is pure genius. If we already think Cesar’s a monster, what we learn in the last few moments takes his monstrosity to new heights.

The direction and performances are expertly assisted by Lucas Vidal’s subtle and genre-savvy musical score. He’s a brilliant young composer with a very bright career ahead of him. Shortly after completing work on ‘Sleep Tight’ he assumed duties on James McTeigue’s ‘The Raven’ (2012).

I can’t pay enough compliments to ‘Sleep Tight’. It’s dethroned ‘The Innkeepers’ as my favourite film of the year so far and deserves to be a massive success. Watch out for its release and, even if you’ve got a fear of subtitles, make sure you don’t miss it.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white

  • Chris C

    Best  film of the festival imho! 😀