Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
December 2012

Sleep Tight

Safety not guaranteed

Darkly comic 'Sleep Tight' is a nasty little excursion into misanthropy and fear

Sleep Tight
MPI Media Group
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Screenplay: Alberto Marini
Starring: Luis Tosar, Marta Etura, Alberto San Juan, Iris Almeida, Petra Martínez and Carlos Lasarte
Not rated / 1 hour, 42 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

Sleep Tight is a deliciously effective little thriller precisely because it taps into unknown fears. There's a banality to the evil at the center of the film that is so strangely plausible - if, naturally, unlikely - that most of us could never anticipate it. Which makes it all the more unsettling.

People like to feel safe. It's one of the driving factors of our existence. Our homes are a safe haven. Our families are a safety net. Being in a relationship is safe. Having insurance is safe. We trust few, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Being safe helps keep us content and happy.

And there's no place we feel safer than right in the comfort of our own home. Especially at night, with all the doors locked. Especially when we're asleep.

Then again, if we're asleep, we don't know any better, do we? Who's to say the concierge at your apartment building isn't sneaking into your home at night and slowly, secretly torturing you?

Well, that is precisely what César (Luis Tosar) has made a habit of doing - making tenants' lives miserable, without them ever knowing it. In fact, he's so innocuously friendly and helpful during working hours, he even gains their trust. And uses it to slowly unravel their lives. Or at least shake them up a bit.

The apartment building where he works is a somewhat new venue for him - you get the feeling he's bounced around from place to place - but his hobby has remained the same for a long time. In essence, he lives to wipe the smiles off the faces of as many people as possible. (This motivation is unfortunately explained too blatantly in the opening internal monologue.) Lacking any capability to be happy himself, he makes it his mission to keep others from experiencing any happiness.

The newest object of his "affection" is a gorgeous tenant named Clara (Marta Etura), who arrives in the lobby every morning with a smile on her face, no matter the circumstances. She's the very face of eternal optimism.

César's pursuit of Clara takes on darkly comedic undertones, as his odious plans to ruin her day, to finally see her emerge from the elevator with a concerned frown, keep coming up short. She, it seems, is his most difficult challenge. But he's nothing if not committed.

Each night after his shift, he lets himself into her apartment, hides under her bed and waits for her to arrive home. He's memorized her sleeping patterns, and just when she dozes off, he chloroforms her and has his way with the apartment. He injects chemicals into her beauty products, invites cockroaches to overrun the apartment - that sort of thing. Nothing too toxic, but certainly enough to ruin someone's day.

When his night's work is through, he lies down in bed next to her and goes to sleep, totally at peace. In fact, when we're first introduced to César, we're not yet aware that the bed he emerges from is Clara's. He sets the alarm each night, wakes up before Clara's induced sleep has worn off, heads down to the front desk, and no one's the wiser.

Well, except the adolescent girl across the hall, who in another nice comic twist has caught on to César's little scheme and is ushering out some torture of her own, blackmailing him to keep her mouth shut.

Just as disconcerting as César's actions are his confessionals, which he gives in detail at his dying mother's bedside. She is mostly conscious, but she seems to have lost the ability to speak; she can only listen to the horror her son has become. Yet César speaks to her as we might speak to our mothers about any run-of-the-mill relationship troubles. (The mommy issues are not subtle.) The normalcy with which he explains, and defends, his diabolical pursuits is both very funny and disquieting.

Naturally, César's plans can't possibly go smoothly forever. In addition to the neighbor girl, his boss is on his case for his poor punctuality and his long lunches; the authorities are seemingly closing in on César after Clara reports the threatening letters he's been anonymously sending her; and César has to confront the unwelcome surprise of Clara's long-distance boyfriend Marcos (Alberto San Juan) arriving at the apartment one night - after he's gone through all the trouble of nestling into his hiding place and getting the chloroform ready. (Rude, Marcos!)

Director Jaume Balagueró has a Hitchcockian flair for the way he stages scenes as complications to César's plans begin to pile up. There are certainly some moments that stretch plausibility even within the film's warped internal logic; but still, Balagueró pulls them off with remarkable timing and careful composition. Most impressive is the way the film retains its twisted sense of humor throughout the proceedings, even as they get darker and darker. And that, truly, is one of the scariest things of all - that even as one's sense of safety and security is slowly eroding, that very misfortune may be the object (and result) of someone else's amusement.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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