SEPTEMBER 29, 2011
If you follow me on Twitter (and I apologize if you do), then you’re probably privy to my minor problem with cockroaches at the Homestead Suites I stayed at in Austin (my complaints netted me a free night’s stay that I probably won’t use). And thus it’s a good thing that I saw Sleep Tight (Spanish: Mientras Duermes) once I was safely back at home, as one of the terrible things that the main character does to a girl he is obsessed with is to purposely cause an infestation of the damn things in her apartment. It was hard enough to sleep in my second room (the first I refused to stay in since the cockroach was seriously big enough to take an actual chunk of flesh); it would have been impossible after seeing this particular sequence.
On the other hand, I’d be more relieved that the staff there seemed too incompetent to do what Cesar the creepy concierge does in this movie. Had they had the ability to do simple things like check me out when I left (the person on duty didn’t know how), I might fear that they too would sneak into guests’ rooms, drug them, and do terrible things to them while they slept, having all of the keys and the illusion of trust on their side. There are minor spoilers ahead, and I think this is the sort of movie that works best the less you know, so stop reading if you don’t already know the plot!
As terrible as The Resident was, I’m now glad I saw it, as Sleep Tight covers similar territory. See, I know how badly this sort of story can be told, and that just makes me appreciate this movie all the more. Rather than reveal the true intentions of the “villain” via an overlong flashback montage a half hour in, the reveal here is much more subtle and thus more successful. In the brilliant opening reel, we see Cesar get out of the bed he is sharing with a beautiful woman, get dressed, and head downstairs to take his post as concierge. A few minutes later, when she comes down and makes small talk with him before going to work, we realize that she has NO IDEA that he was there. SO CREEPY!
In fact all of the reveals in the movie are along the same lines, letting the visuals slowly tell you what’s going on instead of beating you over the head with them. We see Cesar giving some money to a little girl, and later we realize why. There are a lot of great “question and answer” actions in the movie, such as the aforementioned infestation. He doesn’t just walk in with a box of roaches and dump them all over the floor – we just see him smearing what looks like dirty K-Y jelly all over her bathroom cabinet and such, thinking “What the hell is he doing?” and getting our answer a few minutes later. Hell even in the film’s one kill, something is dragged out for a while and it’s not until the conclusion of the sequence that his actions make total sense. It’s a terrific approach to this sort of thriller, which usually favors cheap thrills and an abundance of over-the-top theatrics over this sort of restrained sense of impending dread (again, like The Resident, or maybe The Roommate).
I also like how director Jaume Balagueró managed to make me anxious for such an awful person. As can be expected, there’s a sequence where he gets trapped in the apartment as a result of unexpected developments (namely, she doesn’t fall asleep when planned), and has to sneak around to get to the door without being seen by her or her boyfriend. It’s a wonderfully queasy moment when you realize that you’re hoping he gets out OK, and not discovered/beaten to a pulp, which is what SHOULD happen. It’s a testament to both Alberto Marini’s script and the performance of Luis Tosar as Cesar that even when you understand how far he’s been going, he’s still sort of likable and sympathetic.
And I really dug how smart he was. While most of these characters turn into blubbering morons whenever questioned by authority, he mostly manages to come off as unquestionably innocent when the cops talk to him about a few of the strange goings-on. He’s got a logical answer for everything and never really raises their suspicion any more than it already was – it’s a nice change of pace. Usually they start making up ridiculous stories and the cop will sort of play along in order to get him later, but here I got the impression that the cop was successfully convinced of his innocence. Or at least, not further convinced of his guilt.
I’ll keep this (relatively) short because I feel like I’ve already spoiled too much, and if the movie has one flaw is that the 3rd act feels a bit stripped down, which I can’t really go into without REALLY spoiling things. So let’s just leave it at this: Balagueró has made his best solo film yet here (and that it’s the first he didn’t also write might be a clue to further success), and while it’s not a traditional horror movie, it’s actually creepier and scarier than the full blown horror efforts I saw at the festival. Recommended!
What say you?
P.S. The soundtrack is great and surprisingly all English language, including a Buckcherry number, of all things. I hope that the songs are retained for the film’s US release. The subtitles were also among the best I saw at Fantastic Fest – shouldn’t be something I’d have to point out but alas, most of them were awful.