Many films live and die by the quality of their villain. Sometimes, though, filmmakers take a different approach and make the character who would normally be the “villain” of the story into the protagonist. This can be an interesting exercise when done well, but it can also be an unpleasant experience if done poorly. Sleep Tight is such a film, following the daily routines of a profoundly disturbed man as he does very, very bad things to people. In other hands, this could have been just a slog of misery, but in the able hands of director Jaume Balagueró (Darkness, Fragile, and the first two [REC] films), it becomes a solid thriller shot through with jet-black humor.
César (Luis Tosar) is the doorman in an old apartment building. He lives in a tiny apartment in the basement and spends his days sitting at the front desk, opening doors for the tenants, delivering mail, and doing small repairs and pet-sitting when they need it. While he is always courteous and friendly, this is a facade: César is a sociopath whose only joy in life comes from making other people unhappy. He uses his position to dig into the lives of the people who live in his building and cause them misery. As he reports back to his hospitalized mother (Margarita Roset), this is all too easy for most people, but there’s one tenant who won’t crack: Clara (Marta Etura), a cheerful young woman who always wears a smile.
Naturally, César takes her happiness and optimism as his ultimate challenge. He makes Clara his special project, but complications arise thanks to a nosy little girl who lives across the hall from Clara’s apartment and, even worse, Clara’s boyfriend. Still, César finds ways to make Clara’s life difficult, although doing so begins to threaten his job as he spends more and more time away from the front desk and the building’s owner threatens to fire him. Eventually César finds himself in a race against time to bring Clara down before the little girl, Clara’s boyfriend or his boss find him out or put him in a position that would make his project impossible to complete.
Sleep Tight is certainly not a feel-good movie. César is an unsettling character, but expertly played by Luis Tosar. Director Balagueró hits exactly the right tone, and wisely saves César’s worst for last. Throughout the film, César finds himself in situations where Balagueró wrings considerable tension from whether or not César will be caught, and the audience is likely to find themselves in the uncomfortable position of hoping he doesn’t, if only to see what new miseries he has in store for the tenants of his building. Sleep Tight ends with a devastating final move on the part of César that leaves no question what kind of person he is, and once again the audience is forced to consider what it means to empathize with him. Sleep Tight is one of the best horror films of the year, and Dark Sky Films deserves thanks for taking a chance on releasing yet another excellent horror film that had not found a home in the States.
Dark Sky Films released Sleep Tight on DVD and Blu-ray on 8 January 2013. Special features include a behind-the-scenes featurette and the film’s trailer.