Monday, August 12, 2013

The Bedbugs Aren't the Only Things Biting

Quick Plot: Cesar is works as the concierge at an expensive apartment building in Barcelona. While his days consist of opening doors and feeding the stomach-sensitive dogs of his tenants, his nights are little more sinister.

Cesar, you see, cannot be happy. Whereas some men would try therapy or overload on sugar, Cesar's solution to his intensely ambivalent life is to find whatever pleasure he can in the unhappiness of others. Especially if he's the one who causes it.

Enter Clara, a pretty and bubbly young tenant who exits the building every day with a smile and warm thank you. She's the kind of woman you're glad  to have as a neighbor, a genuinely nice soul with as sunny a disposition as you can find.

Naturally, Cesar plots to tear it all away.

What follows is a progressively sick little game of sadism. Every night, Cesar sneaks into Clara's bedroom and dopes her with chloroform, enjoying how she groggily wakes up later and later the following morning. He clogs her sink, planting a beloved family heirloom there just so he can rust it up with Drano. He sends anonymous love letters and text messages with a creepy, ominous slant and creates a fully armed cockroach invasion without batting an eye.

Cesar is a bad man.

And yet, we see everything through his point of view, meaning that as much as we want him to get caught, we're also hesitant since doing so would end the movie and our camera view. 

Written by Alberto Marini and directed by Jaume Balaguero (one half of REC and REC 2), Sleep Tight is a film that doesn't play nice. Cesar is a cruel man, one who enjoys tormenting the innocent Clara while also verbally unraveling a nice, lonely older woman who made the mistake of thinking he was her friend. A scene where he quietly tells that tenant that her life is empty, never raising his voice to do so, provides some of the most unsettling minutes I've ever spent with a film.

He's a monster, plain and true. But as he makes his midnight calls to a radio show on the roof of his building, flirting every evening with the possibility of suicide, it's clear to us that the only cure for Cesar's chronic misery is indeed making others feel the same way. It's sick and sad, especially since his target is a truly good person. But perhaps that's what makes the movie such an effective little slice of cruel.

High Points
A featurette on the DVD includes an interview where the screenwriter discusses some of the revision process, including the fact that several subplots were cut before filming. Excellent decision. Because Sleep Tight is seen entirely from Cesar's eyes, the film moves with incredibly tense momentum. It also prevents Cesar from becoming a typical villain, since we rely so much on his perspective to follow the story. Had the script bounced around with minor characters, Cesar might have been reduced to a simpler monster and not the fascinating character he ultimately is

Speaking of, as Cesar, Luis Tosar nails it

Low Points
Credit to the film for its ending, but OUCH

Lessons Learned
Nanny cams aren't just for nannies you know

Never pair a potato pancake with a French bulldog

Kids today are getting very crafty about their blackmail demands

I won't be eager to revisit Sleep Tight anytime soon, but some years down the line, I look forward to seeing how it plays upon repeat viewing. It's disturbing on a very unique level, sort of like a lighter version of Michael Haneke's Cache or a calmer version of The Vanishing. Except maybe not at all. Point is, Sleep Tight is well worth a watch, as is the making-of feature included on the DVD. Quiet horror at its best.

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