Sleep Tight is a very simple thriller that makes itself great through very extraordinary methods. The obsessed stalker subgenre has been an American favorite at times - particularly around the late '80s and early '90s - but this Spanish chiller dares to take risks that many filmmakers would avoid. The result of those risks is a film that kind of blew my mind.
The story primarily follows two characters - Cesar (played by Luis Tosar), the concierge at a pretty decent apartment building; and Clara (played by Marta Etura) a twentysomething tenant who is young, beautiful, and the object of Cesar's lust. In fact, we learn very quickly that Cesar spends most of his evenings hiding under Clara's bed and waiting until she's asleep and he can sedate her.
Now, I'm willing to bet that any female reader who just considered the possibility of a man hiding under their bed and waiting to pounce just freaked out. That's the natural, and probably correct, reaction to the premise. Director Jaume Balaguero - who knows a bit about apartment based horror after co-directing the first two [REC] films - doesn't waste any time setting up Cesar's role as aggressor, and the first act of the film does more than enough to make us uncomfortable with the man.
The thing about Sleep Tight - the thing that I think is truly amazing - is that it's not that easy to really hate Cesar. I feel awful saying that - I don't support stalking and raping, obviously - but Balaguero focuses almost all of the film's attention on Cesar, and the obsessed man is never painted as a one-note psychopath. Many films of this sort add scenes that are entirely there to make us think the perpetrator is a total freak, but Sleep Tight takes Cesar's side in the story more often than you'd expect. I couldn't help feeling like there were moments when Cesar was more like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief than Anthony Perkins in Psycho, and I feel kind of crazy admitting that.
I won't say that I was rooting for the creeper, nor will I suggest that you should. But the real treat of Sleep Tight is that it doesn't settle for the simple approach to this story. Cesar is a troubled man, not a representation of evil. Clara isn't built up as the representation of everything that's good, either. We have plenty of reasons to know that Cesar is a bad guy and Clara is a victim - the most obvious of which is common sense - but Balaguero knows how to create drama in any situation. I am still kind of shocked that I found myself worried about how Cesar would escape being found out in so many situations, but the film is so engaging that I just couldn't help it.
Sleep Tight will certainly go down as one of the most impressive and memorable horror films of recent years for me. It's got a truly Hitchcockian tone, a marvelous lead performance, and enough creepy moments to make most films of its type jealous. Balaguero will be returning to the [REC] series soon to bring more hyperactive horror to us all, but Sleep Tight should put genre fans on notice that this is a filmmaker who can control a film in many different ways. I've been thinking about it for days, and can't recommend it enough.
(P.S. - Why is everyone in Spain listening to music from America? Only thing that confused me about this flick.)