“There is always a way to be happy” declares a radio station caller during the opening of Sleep Tight [Mientras duermes], the intertitle cuts to a shot of César (Luis Tosar) standing on a roof-top seemingly ready to jump, clearly the exception to this declaration. His voiceover confesses that he has no motivation to rise out of bed in the morning, that he is never happy despite the fact that he “tries”. Cut again to him lying in bed next to a sleeping beauty, he awakens and begins a day-shift as an apartment building concierge. He visits his sick mother in hospital and on the surface appears to be an amiable everyman, invisible to some and less so to others.
Clara (Marta Etura) – the sleeping beauty – is the exact opposite to César in every way possible, not least in her sunny disposition. She is often shot in natural light and her bright, airy apartment and pale coloured summer wardrobe is juxtaposed with the male lead whose affiliation with the darkness becomes more and more apparent as the film progresses. Despite her ray-of-sunshine persona Clara’s life is far from idyllic, she is receiving poison-pen correspondence masquerading as love letters and disturbing text messages. The difference between the two characters? Clara always finds a way to smile, to be happy whether in her day-to-day routine or dancing around her living room. She is seemingly satisfied with her lot in life – little does she know just how unsafe she is in her own home.
Jaume Balagueró’s previous films [Rec] (2007) and [Rec]2 (2009) have been deeply rooted within the horror genre and this, ever-so, slight departure proves that his talent for building tension and unease really is innate. This psychological thriller gets under the skin and is executed perfectly with its canted and panning camerawork and especially with its playful soundtrack which lulls the audience into a false sense of security. Luis Tosar (Mr Nice, Cell 211) gives an outstanding performance, his César is sneering, ice cold and without empathy – a sociopath in every sense of the word.
This film is a testament to the lengths a person will go to, to destroy another’s spirit and its ending hammers home the true horror and hatred of humanity. There may be a cost to being happy – or perhaps there are more people who take absolute pleasure in inciting hatred and misery than we may think. It is tense, unnerving and delivers a well-plotted narrative which will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. Good luck sleeping tight after this one.