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Feature


Toiling silently among the residents of an everyday Barcelona apartment building, doorman César (Luis Tosar) harbors a dark secret: his sole desire in life is to make others unhappy. When he sets his sights on Clara (Marta Clara), one of his building’s cheeriest residents, his sick need blossoms into a full-fledged obsession. Embarking on a series of private and physical violations against Clara, Cesar becomes determined to ruin her life by any means necessary. Becoming the boogeyman hiding under the bed and bringing her nightmares to life, his fascination with torment soon crosses the line into lunacy – and his thirst for others’ sadness soon becomes manically unquenchable.

Sleep Tight
From that plot synopsis (Dark Sky Film’s official one), Sleep Tight sounds a whole lot like Antti Jokinen’s The Resident, an incredibly dull ‘thriller’ that marked a sad, new beginning for the UK’s Hammer film studio. Why would anyone care about a Spanish version of an already unoriginal story (David Schmoeller’s super sleazy Crawlspace basically perfected the formula by way of remorseless sex and violence)? Director Jaume Balagueró, that’s why. Most readers likely know Balagueró as one half of the directing team behind REC and REC 2 (the other half was Paco Plaza, who remains an up and coming director to watch), but before that he made a name for himself with classy supernatural horror films, like Los Sin Nombre and Darkness. These films, along with films like Guillermo del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone, Alejandro Amenábar’s Abre Los Ojos, Álex de la Iglesia’s El Día de la Bestia, helped redefine and reinvigorate genre cinema in Spain in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s.

Sleep Tight is absolutely a return to those days of menacingly still and quiet thrillers, meaning the folks that see it simply for the REC factor will likely be disappointed. But Balagueró doesn’t overstate himself here, either. His deliberate pace still has a rhythm to it and doesn’t stifle the narrative experience. He’s also not overly concerned with drawing attention to his beautiful compositions, which tend to play out as long as  required before moving on to the next, equally stunning image. It’s probably also important to clearly state that Sleep Tight is not really what most people would call a ‘horror film.’ It settles pretty nicely into the assumed textbook definition of a ‘psychological thriller.’ In fact, beyond even that, Sleep Tight is a rather stringent study of a single character and a rather unsavory character at that. The ‘horror’ is found less in César’s actions (which are plenty grotesque) and more in the fact that we are so complacent with them as an audience. It takes a solid half of the film before we’re finally driven out of his corner and are able to treat him as a true antagonist (he has to make an old lady cry). Even then, it’s difficult not to feel sorry for him, despite not being given a single reason to the contrary. Most of the fingernail-gnawing suspense revolves chiefly around the possibility the villain will be caught doing definitively seedy things, not around the heroine falling victim to his plans.

Sleep Tight
The screenplay was written by Alberto Marini, who co-wrote To Let, Balagueró’s entry in the Spanish answer to Masters of Horror, Films to Keep You Awake. Marini cleverly doles out just the right amount of information as it is needed to allow the skin-crawling tone to seep in. The audience gains information on César only as deemed necessary, which creates a lot of intrigue around some generally predictable plot turns. The concept doesn’t immediately seem to justify a feature runtime, but between Balagueró’s (mostly) impeccable pacing and Marini’s vibrant, quirky characterizations there’s little time lost in the subtle turning of the screws. The quirky characterizations eventually become a problem, however, and not in the way you’d think. The weirder and funnier the people around him act, the easier it is to wish there were more comedy mixed into this otherwise mournful film (the most memorable part of the entire film is a mostly incidental relationship between César and the preteen girl that witnesses his crimes). The entire situation is kind of preposterous and should probably be tonally addressed as such. There are incidents of black comedy (how can there not be), but a rich vein of absurdity is mostly ignored in favour of further dips into complete melodrama.

Sleep Tight

Video


I haven’t had a Dark Sky Films Blu-ray to review in some time, the last one being their 2011 release of Stake Land, which was a fantastic rendering of the Red One camera’s capabilities. Sleep Tight was shot on 35mm film and, being film-based, this transfer is a bit more ‘traditional,’ including plenty of fine film grain and some inconsistencies in overall clarity. Balagueró and cinematographer Pablo Rosso shoot much of the film quite darkly for the sake of mood and, though the sharpness of highlights is rarely dulled, the consistency and richness of blacks is occasionally lacking. This is likely not an issue on Dark Sky’s part, because the inconsistencies are generally in keeping with the look of 35mm film. Balagueró and Rosso spend a lot of time in shallow focus, which doesn’t do a lot for the complex qualities of backgrounds, but there are some beautifully rendered close-up textures and only minor hints of edge enhancement when the focus deepens. The palette is divided largely between daylight (warmer) and nighttime (cooler) sequences, but relatively consistent either way. The most commonly represented hues are blues, greens, and yellows, all of which act as both undercoats and poppy highlights throughout the film. Despite some additionally warm red elements and especially vibrant overall colour quality, the bulk of the natural hues are generally washed out, making skin tones appear eerily unnatural (not to mention the brownish blood in the film one particularly violent scene). All of these colours are pretty sharply separated, except, of course, those times they are absorbed a bit by the blacks. There is, perhaps, a little more noise throughout the whiter backdrops than expected.

Sleep Tight

Audio


There’s only one audio option available on this Sleep Tight Blu-ray – a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 version of the original Spanish track. Thank goodness Dark Sky didn’t waste our time with a dub track. This track is mostly natural and soft with minor volume embellishments to create a relatively deep, dynamic, aural palette. The ambient noise is not particularly boisterous, but is given a decent multi-channel representation and even some directional enhancement depending on the busyness of a given location. The more delicate moments are not as aggressively impressive, but the important sounds are always clear and always situated in the correct channel, based on screen placement. Occasionally, things get a bit more intrusive, such as the inception of a sequence where Clara awakens to discover hundreds of cockroaches in her apartment and the stereo channels vibrate with the chatter of insects. Lucas Vidal’s score is haunting and romantic for most of the film, featuring warm instrumentations and smooth echo effects. When he wants to get a little scarier, he doesn’t shy away from startle stabs or pumping, electronic stereo sounds, but the coolest effect is a deep, rumbling bass that is almost subconsciously subtle. The choice of pop music during rare interludes is curiously bouncy and gives the track some surprising texture, not to mention the biggest in terms of LFE punch.

Extras


The extras begin with Sleep Tight: César’s World (1:47:30, SD), an extensive making-of documentary that runs (excessively) longer than the film itself. This doc covers Marini’s original script, Balagueró’s interest, which helped restructure the script for Spain rather than New York, drastic editing, casting, music, sound design, production design, cinematography, set construction, storyboards, insect wrangling, digital effects, stunts, and make-up/mechanical effects. It includes a lot of raw behind-the-scenes and rehearsal footage, as well as interviews with Balagueró, Marini, producer Julio Fernández, editor Guillermo de la Cal, composer Lucas Vidal, sound designer Oriol Tarrago, production designer Javier Alvariño, cinematographer Pablo Rosso, digital FX supervisor Cesc Biénzobas, mechanical FX supervisor Juan Carlos Davila, stunt supervisor Toni Hingueruelo, and actors Luis Tosar, Marta Etura, Petra Martínez, Carlos Lasarte, Iris Almeida, Alberto San Juan.

The disc also features a deleted scenes reel (12:40, SD), a trailer, and trailers for other Dark Sky releases.

Sleep Tight

Overall


Sleep Tight is a fine entry in director Jaume Balagueró’s canon. Its Hitchcockian subject matter merely needs a dash more humour to make the whole thing gel. I only warn REC fans that Balagueró’s involvement does not equate the same brand of high-energy horror. This is a much smoother thriller, akin to his earlier work. Dark Sky has done a fine, if not outstanding job with the A/V quality here and have included both a feature-length making-of documentary and deleted scenes as supplements, which is more than the studio’s average extent of extras.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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