I’m not sure what it says about the viewer’s state of mind when they are caring more about the welfare of the psychopath rather than the hapless victim. That could well be the case if you choose to spend a night in the company of Luis Tosar’s twisted janitor, keeping the residents anything but quiet in Jaume Balaguero’s latest psychological horror.
Tosar was outstanding in 2009’s Cell 211 and he repeats the feat here with a sympathetic, oddly engaging performance that demands your full attention. That’s not to say the victim is any less engaging, but Marta Etura’s Clara plays second fiddle to Tosar’s convoluted conductor. She’s a cheery presence, all sweetness and smiles, and her inner beauty is matched only by her stunning looks.
Jaume Balaguero (REC) leaves the world of shaky cam zombie horror behind – at least until later this year – to create a masterful Hitchcockian nightmare that crawls under your skin and doesn’t let go. Marini (screenplay) and Balaguero turn a standard tale of terror on its head by giving Cesar depth, personality and quiet charm. He’s not a happy bunny of course – that goes without saying – but you will find yourself warming to his apparent ordinariness.
The fact that he’s playing most of the residents like the pawns on a chessboard only adds to the appeal, and when he makes mistakes (of which there are many) you will find yourself praying he’ll turn it around. And you’ll care about the psychopath too, a little too much at times, as he narrowly avoids being discovered at every turn. Balaguero has managed the mightiest of twists, putting his bogeyman in peril as the suspense builds, all the while leaving his unsuspecting heroine on the sidelines.
He orchestrates the madness with terrifying intensity, building towards a harrowing, blood thirsty ending that isn’t cheapened by a cringe worthy moment of excess. The entire movie is built around the notion that something’s got to give, and when it does it pays dividends, but not in the way you might expect. Add to the mix a scheming schoolgirl, a disgruntled manager and a lonely old lady and things get complicated very quickly, but Balaguero never drops the ball, and the payoff is as poetic as it is twisted.
The less you know about Balaguero’s latest the better, because it dares to deviate from horror convention and is all the more appealing for it. More importantly, Sleep Tight is a masterful psychological horror without a single zombie insight. Balaguero has done himself no harm at all with this extraordinary tale of terror, proving that there’s life beyond the zombie franchise that made his name. It’s a slow-burner for sure, but a striking lead turn and a stream of steady twists ensure that you’re with him all the way.
That’s not to say we won’t be looking forward to [REC] 4: Apocalypse of course, but with Balaguero taking centre stage, there’s a good chance it might get the truly terrifying send off it deserves. AW