*BREAKING NEWS: SLEEP TIGHT has just been awarded the Best Screenplay Award (screenwriter: Alberto Marini) for Fantasia 2012, by a jury consisting of Jay Baruchel, Maggie Lee, Gabriel Pelletier and Sylvain Krief.
SLEEP TIGHT: Jaume Balaguero’s Newest Night Terror
By Melissa Howard
It could be said that Spanish director Jaume Balaguero is obsessed with things that go bump in the night. While this isn’t uncharted terrain for a horror filmmaker, it’s evident that Balaguero has a penchant and particular knack for revealing nocturnal doings and un-doings. His latest film, Sleep Tight (2011) (written by Alberto Marini), directs attention to the nighttime actions of an unassuming and exceedingly affable concierge, Cesar (played with taut precision by Luis Tosar). It seems that this man was born with no capacity for contentment – he tells the audience this from the edge of a rooftop in the opening sequence: “Happy…the problem is, I can’t be happy”. As a result of this lonesome affliction, Cesar’s primal undertaking is to remove all the joy from the lives of those around him (including his ailing mother), a tall order for a concierge whose daily life consists of plastering ceilings, filling mailboxes and unclogging toilets. Cesar torments those tenants who exhibit any semblance of joy – Clara (Marta Etura) being the special object of his disaffection, thanks to her unshakable mirth. Subsequently, the film revolves around Cesar’s sick attempts to rattle Clara’s unbelievable good cheer.
Balaguero builds tension slowly in Sleep Tight, but the torturous camera eye lets the viewer in, just enough to understand how sinister Cesar really is. At night, he sneaks into Clara’s room and waits beneath her bed until she falls asleep. He drugs her while she sleeps, then casually slips between the sheets. This transgression seems awful enough, but it’s his reason for lying beside her – his long-term malevolence – that will rattle the viewer by story’s end.
Balaguero’s filmmaking is effective in Sleep Tight as the tension rises and the scenes close in on Cesar and the unsuspecting tenants. The building itself feels like an aspiring body double, since much of the action takes place in the many closed-off rooms and hallways. It’s also worth noting how stairwells and elevators play an interesting role yet again in Balaguero’s latest, reminiscent of his previous effort, REC (2007), a film fans will remember played out like a found footage documentary, to great effect. In REC as in Sleep Tight, Baleguero keeps a tight focus on his subjects and the confines of each location, adding to the claustrophobic aura he builds and exploits in the Spanish apartment blocks he’s known for filming in. Though Balaguero alone cannot take credit for REC’s shaky cam success (the film was co-written and co-directed with Paco Plaza), there is certainly a running theme in the director’s work – the supernatural.
A Native Barcelonan, Balaguero began his filmmaking career as many do – with short films. He began by shooting video in the early 1990’s then moved to 35mm film a few years into his career. It was his first feature length film, The Nameless (1999), based on the Ramsey Campbell novel, which brought him to the attention of North American audiences (in fact, The Nameless won best film at Fantasia that same year). The Nameless was one of the first, but by no means the last, of Balaguero’s films to deal with the occult. It centers on the story of a couple whose daughter is found murdered in a well, identifiable by her bracelet and shorter leg. Five years later, the mother Claudia hears from her daughter and decides to re-open the case. What follows is the discovery of a nefarious cult, “Los Sin Nombre”, who are in pursuit of the nature and origins of evil.
Balaguero’s paranormal bedtime stories have set the pace in the director’s world, all the way through to his recent resurrection of the REC series to include REC Genesis and REC Apocalypse (set for release in 2013), making Sleep Tight something of an anomaly. There’s an externalized panic in REC that’s more internalized in Sleep Tight, by way of the emotional disturbances of Balaguero’s Cesar. In REC, the story centers on a local late night TV show called “While You’re Sleeping”. A keen television presenter, Angela (Manuela Velasco) and unseen cameraman, Pablo (played by the actual cinematographer Pablo Rosso) visit a fire station to follow a group of firemen on their nightly rounds. After Angela’s long introduction of the crew, the firehouse finally receives a call about a woman trapped inside her apartment. What happens in this creepy little apartment block (while Barcelona “sleeps”) is an infection manifested as demonic possession, claiming the lives of those both on and off-screen. Balaguero and Plaza invent a visceral and observable fear of what lurks in the shadows. Sleep Tight does no such thing. No one is brimming with fear in this story. Instead fear exists on the periphery of those mundane troubles that make up the human condition – loneliness, isolation and loss. Nonetheless, in true Balaguero fashion, the director dumps the abnormality (his nighttime monster – Cesar) in plain view… and what could be scarier than this?