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[Interview] FF ’11: ‘Sleep Tight’ Director Jaume Balaguero!

While co-creator Paco Plaza was off working on [REC]3, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Balagueró killed some time by taking on a new subgenre. Sleep Tight, which David Harley loved out of Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, is a sublime thriller that every genre fan should be excited for.

In the film starring Luis Tosar, Marta Etura and Alberto San Juan, the residents of the building where Cesar works as a doorman are not aware of the overtime he has been putting in. Apparently, he is at their service both day and night.

Harley was one of the few lucky individuals who had a chance to sit down with Balagueró and talk about the psychological chiller. Read on for the interview!


David Harley: Aside from your TV movie, To Let, your feature-length films revolve around the supernatural. Do you gravitate towards that consciously? What made you break away from that for Sleep Tight?

Jaume Balaguero: It’s nothing conscious, nothing planned, but I read [Sleep Tight's] script and was really, really interested in it because of the suspense and tension. It was a different kind of suspense and a different kind of tension, so it was a challenge for me to design them. So, I decided to make the movie. I’ve made another realistic kind of horror movie in Spain; it was on TV, but I think it came out on DVD here.

BD: Yeah, it was in the Films To Keep You Awake set.

Balaguero: It was kind of realistic and not supernatural. But actually, I think Sleep Tight is the first not really horror but more realistic suspense film I’ve done.

BD: Before Sleep Tight, you worked on the first two [REC] films which also took place in a closed-off apartment. Did you intentionally gravitate towards working on another film with one main location? Is that level of claustrophobia appealing to you?

Balaguero: Not really. I like it very much, but I think it’s something accident. My first movie in this kind of environment was To Let, which was in a building in the middle of Barcelona; it took place inside mostly. Then afterwards, I decided to make [REC] with Paco Plaza. We wanted to try to make a horror movie with a subjective point of view in real time, like Cannibal Holocaust or that American one…

BD: Blair Witch?

Balaguero: Yes. We wanted to push it really far, make something like a TV report in real time. We wanted to find a way to scare people and involve people in the story while making it fun. It was perfect for us to make that inside the building as well, because the idea was to experiment with a low budget and really control the movie. For that, we needed a low budget. So, it was perfect for us to control all the action in there. Then I got the script for Sleep Tight and it was incidental that it took place inside one building. Not, I have to decide what my next movie is and make something that is not just inside an apartment building because people will think I’m obsessed or something.

BD: Paco just finished [REC] 3. Are you still doing Apocalypse?

Balaguero: Yeah, we are writing the script for the last part because Apocalypse will be the last film.

BD: Does it leave the apartment setting like Genesis?

Balaguero: I can’t tell you where it’s taking place because we are still writing the script, but I can say that it is taking place in a very different environment. It’s not in Barcelona, a weird apocalyptic Barcelona. It’s somewhere different and very new.

BD: Have you seen the American version of [REC]?

Balaguero: Just the first one, have not seen the other yet…

BD: Getting back to Sleep Tight, the highlight of the movie for me was Luis Tosar’s performance as Cesar. When you get down to it, the character is just a miserable person and wants to switch places with someone who is satisfied with life because he’s so dissatisfied with his. And by making them as miserable as he is, he can pull it off. What were you looking for while casting?

Balaguero: I thought that the role was really complex when I read it. We needed someone repulsive and disturbing and nasty. But, at the same time, they needed to be charismatic and… very attractive, which is kind of a contradiction. It was a challenge for me as a director and for the actor. I went with Luis Tosar; in Spain, he is a big, big star. He’s considered one of the best actors in Spain. It was two years ago that he was in a movie that won all the Goyas. You know what the Goyas are?

BD: Yeah, they’re the Spanish Oscars.

Balaguero: Right. Have you seen this movie, Cell 211?

BD: No, I haven’t.

Balaguero: Well, it takes place in prison and Luis Tosar plays a prisoner, a criminal. It was a very powerful, very strong performance and he became incredibly popular. He was already popular but he became incredibly popular in Spain afterwards. He’s strong, he’s clever, he’s sensible, and he was perfect for the role.

BD: The film operates on this time table of sorts. You get day text prompts to show how much time is elapsing during the story and when the movie begins, the girl at the end of the hall already knows what is going on. Why did you choose to start in the middle of Luis’ story – his story of mentally torturing Clara – instead of at the very beginning?

Balaguero: One of the strongest things in the script when I first read it was the way it confused the audience. At the beginning, you can believe they are lovers; they’re in bed together. It’s real interesting to start with this because you just think it’s a normal relationship between a guy and a girl, and then you start to discover that things are not so clear. He’s a doorman of one of the neighbors and when you first see them talking, you realize they’re not lovers. It was interesting to start discovering little pieces of the game. I felt it was the best way to introduce the story.

BD: You usually write and direct, but this time you worked off of Alberto Marini’s script. Was it hard for you to adapt it to your liking? Did you make a lot of changes?

Balaguero: Usually, I write my own – or co-write – scripts because there’s a specific kind of movie I have in my head while writing it. If I find a script that I find really interesting, I don’t really have a problem doing it, though. I was really fascinated by Alberto’s script and I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I decided to make the movie. We made a few changes. The first version of the script was longer and Cesar narrated it. I just thought it was better not to use the narration and go straight into the story, showing everything.

BD: Before [REC], you made a few films in English, like Darkness and Fragile. Do you have any plans to shoot in another language again, or are the potential projects in your future all in Spanish?

Balaguero: We are working on [REC] 4 now – which is in Spanish – and the next few projects will be in English, I think. It’s easier for me in Spanish, but making a movie in English is something I can deal with. It’s more difficult, but I can do it.

BD: So you have a few films after Apocalypse?

Balaguero: I have two ideas for after [REC], potentially. One of them has a script, and the other one is an adaptation of a Japanese novel. I think, right now, we have to write [REC] but we will start writing them soon.

BD: Are those also in the horror genre?

Balaguero: Yes. One of them – I prefer not to tell which film it is -is a remake. It’s a remake of a French movie.