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Fantastic Fest 2011 Review: Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermas)

October 5, 2011

Director Jaume Balaguero brought us the claustrophobic thriller REC (2007), an original spin on the zombie genre that was quickly remade into Quarantine for all the folks who can’t be bothered by pesky subtitles. His follow up was REC 2 (2009), which was equally creepy. Fantastic Fest was host to the World Premiere of Balaguero’s latest offering, Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermas). While the film is set in Barcelona (as were REC and REC 2), the similarities to his previous films end there.

Sleep Tight revolves around Cesar (Luis Tosar), the doorman (or “concierge”, as the subtitles call him) of an apartment complex who is most happy when he can bask in the misery of others. He can’t tolerate upbeat people, so building tenant Clara (Marta Etura) is a real thorn in his side, what with her radiant smile and rosy outlook on life. The nerve.

Cesar thinks of Clara as a special project of sorts; he’s determined to make her miserable, no matter what it takes. I won’t give away too much more, but you’ve got a sociopath with a key to her apartment, let your imagination run rampant. I found Sleep Tight especially terrifying because it feeds into the fears that any woman has about living alone, and then some. I’m not sure if the film will illicit the same feelings in men, but being secretly watched is a near universal fear amongst the women I know. Not only is voyeurism unsettling and demeaning, but it is a sacred violation of privacy. Of course, there is much more going on here, but that’s a start.

Balaguero presents Cesar as a despicable human being, but he’s also quite fascinating; you find yourself wanting to know more about his motivations. Why is he the way he is? Is he inherently evil, or was he wronged in the past? There are some brief but highly effective scenes in which Cesar visits his invalid mother in a facility, and we get a glimpse (but no more) into his true nature. His own mother seems paralyzed in his presence, and as he shares his plans to break Clara, her wordless response conveys undeniable horror. Does she share some of the blame?  I wish I could have gotten a few more answers.

Sleep Tight capitalizes on sparse set pieces, as most of the scenes take place in Clara’s apartment, or in the entryway of the apartment building.  The tension builds slowly over a period of weeks, as Cesar becomes more emboldened and brazen with his antics. Tosar is disturbing as deranged man, and his deliberate verbal takedown of an elderly tenant is cruel and callous. He’s a formidable villain. The fact that he is dismissed (repeatedly) as a mere doorman by the authorities and tenants makes him that much more menacing.  Etura is beautiful and sympathetic as the damsel in distress who is blissfully unaware of the evil right under her nose. You’ll be checking under your bed and in your closet for quite some time after you see this thriller.




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