Cesar is unhappy. He has never been happy, and states that he is, in fact, incapable of being happy. So we meet him standing on the ledge of the apartment building where he works, staring into the void of his own soul and contemplating a leap to end it all. And in the intriguing Spanish-language thriller “Sleep Tight,” it only gets darker from there.
Cesar is the concierge in a Barcelona apartment building, and the only comfort he can find in life is to share his misery and make the residents around him just as unhappy as he is. It’s a given he has been on that ledge before, but he is running out of ways to keep from jumping. In order to have a reason for continuing to live, he focuses his twisted attention on one particular resident, Clara, who is a seemingly unshakably happy young lady. In a series of escalating events, Cesar invades her life without her knowledge in an attempt to bring her into his world of misery.
Director Jaume Balaguero first achieved recognition as co-creator of the found-footage horror film “[REC],” an energetic and efficient chiller that also takes place entirely within an apartment building (it was given an English-language remake as “Quarantine”). Working here from a script by Alberto Marini, Balaguero has created a very different film, a relatively disciplined and tightly-wound study of an exceptionally obsessed individual.
A certain level of disbelief must be suspended when the nature of Cesar’s manipulations of Clara are known, but once the rules are set, the film establishes a demented logic in the procession of events and a sure-handed control of mood and characterization. Especially in the first two-thirds of the film, the filmmakers smartly keep the true level of Cesar’s evil nature half-concealed, only gradually revealing the depth of his psychosis and tightening the tension.
The film does take a turn towards a crueler, more conventional thriller in the last third, where Cesar encounters an obstacle in the person of Clara’s boyfriend, and it seems needlessly drawn out before tying up loose ends in fittingly heartless fashion.
We see glimpses of the inner core of Cesar’s true personality in effective confessional scenes at the hospital bedside of his physically incapacitated mother, where he discusses his efforts to ruin Clara. She can only weep in mute agony at his cruelty and sickness. Hints are dropped at her role in forming Cesar’s personality, but those are wisely left unstated.
As Cesar, Luis Tosar walks a fine line of desperation, never overplaying what could easily have been a wild-eyed caricature, and finding elements of pity in Cesar’s torment. (It’s beside the point, but he also looks a lot like Scott Adsit, who plays Pete on “30 Rock’). Through his controlled performance, “Sleep Tight” plays with our misdirected sympathy for him, especially in a nicely-staged sequence where Cesar is surprised and trapped inside Clara’s apartment. I also enjoyed the scenes between Cesar and the young girl who lives across from Clara and has seen too much—the choice of a child for his blackmailing nemesis adds a creepy layer of twist to the plot.
“Sleep Tight” is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The lighting schemes for the different areas of the apartment building are clear, and there are no visual problems that I could see, even in the numerous barely-lit night scenes. There are yellow English sub-titles, and English and Spanish SDH tracks, as well.
The soundtrack is presented in Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The quiet moments, creaks and groans and suspenseful silences are well-handled. Thankfully, there is no dubbing track.
- Original theatrical trailer
- “Sleep Tight: Cesar’s World” is a lengthy and pretty detailed making-of featurette
- a set of deleted scenes that add a few interesting snippets to Cesar’s mindset, but are unnecessary
Though not without problems, the Spanish-language “Sleep Tight” is an effective and controlled thriller with a leap-of-faith edge, and a good performance by Luis Tosar as the twisted obsessive out to ruin a young woman’s life