Jaume Balaguero spent the last four years of his career making films restricted to a single apartment building and if Sleep Tight is any indication of what kind of material he’s going to work with outside of his franchise from here on out, then he should stick to residential lodging. Alberto Marini’s screenplay allows Balaguero to use the same setting that played a huge part in the success of [REC] and its sequel to let a different kind of monster loose on a slew of unassuming tenants; a man who favors destroying someone emotionally over killing them, which would give them an escape from the torment he so meticulously crafted for them.
Cesar (Luis Tosar) is a concierge in a Barcelona apartment building, delivering mail, opening doors and doing pretty much anything to make the resident’s lives easier. If they had taken the time to get to know him, much like he had done for them by learning their schedules, habits and the like, they might’ve seen the darkness that consumes him rather than his fake smile and façade of helpfulness. He hates life and the happiness it brings people, and since he can’t find the joy in anything, he preys upon anyone with a spring in their step to even feel something that could be considered an emotion. In other words, he’s a self-loathing bully.
There’s plenty of fodder for him to toy with, but he really goes out of his way to mess with Clara (Marta Etura), a beautiful twenty-something with a bubbly personality. She embodies the antithesis of his personality and can’t be dealt with by overfeeding an old, beloved pet with gastrointestinal problems – which, to be fair, is pretty mean-spirited. He must break her and leave a permanent stain on her psyche; only then can she truly understand what misery is. Lucky for Cesar, his skeleton key gives him a literal doorway into her world to pinpoint her weaknesses and exploit them to not only wear her down, but make her more reliant on him so that he can further analyze her. This is a game to him, a series of trial and errors that help him strategically work towards an event that will rattle Clara to her core, and he’s more than prepared to go to the extreme.
There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to Cesar’s outlook on life and he has no back story; he just hates people and finds delight in the downfall of others. Tosar takes advantage of the ambiguity and makes Cesar his own, giving a performance that’s memorably chilling. He’s methodical and quietly psychotic, lying in wait like a tiger in a jungle rather a bull in a china shop, and lives up to the old saying of “it’s the quiet ones you want to watch out for.” Tosar embodies the personality of a creepy loner kid all grown up, making Cesar’s quest to transfer his misery onto someone else so that he can one day grow to be normal frighteningly believable. Etura plays his foil with the same level of expertise and although her character isn’t nearly as interesting, her transformation, which leads up to one of the more tragic and disturbing finales in recent memory, is.
Atmospherically shot by frequent collaborator Pablo Rosso, Sleep Tight shows a lot of growth for Balaguero, who up until now had a terrible track record for solo efforts. Marini’s script might be built upon a simple, familiar premise but the characterization is excellent, giving Tosar the ammunition needed to create one hell of a creepy villain.