If you’re ever beset with the nagging suspicion that Hollywood has lost its cojones when it comes to nail-biting thrillers, check out Jaume Balaguero’s ‘Mientras Duermes’ (‘Sleep Tight’) and spend the rest of the night awake…it hinges on such a simple idea, I’m staggered no-one has thought of it before.
Cesar (beetle-browed Luis Tosar) is the concierge of an elegant Spanish apartment block. He’s solicitous and helpful, softly spoken and kind to everyone. He’s also sleeping with the most beautiful woman in the building.
There’s only one snag. She doesn’t know about it.
Because Cesar manipulates everyone. He has keys to all the apartments, so he can let himself in and do whatever he likes, whether it’s doctoring the residents’ food, poisoning their bathroom requisites or making them all suspicious of one another. His purpose is to make them really unhappy. We’ve seen plenty of creepy movies in which the killer invades someone’s private space (hey, I wrote one) but using her toothbrush? That’s really invasive.
Of course, there wouldn’t be much suspense if Cesar simply got his own way for an hour and a half. There are various flies in the ointment, including the old man upstairs who hates him and the beady-eyed little girl who has seen him letting himself into apartments at night, and who is now blackmailing him for her silence. The question is, how far will Cesar go to protect himself?
A bigger problem is, how far can the director go to make us root for a man who is so utterly cruel? Cesar confesses to his hospitalised mother, and the building is getting suspicious of him, so Cesar’s finely wrought plans aren’t exactly going all his way. Balaguero, who made the ‘[Rec]‘ movies, brilliantly keeps the audience on a knife edge of anxiety, alternately hating Cesar and wanting him to get away with it. The director’s cleverest trick is to give us both at once and then make us suffer for getting what we wanted, and he does so in a way that has you flinching without revelling in gore (with the exception of one genuinely shocking scene).
The cinematography is stunning, and the level of tension is racked up to an almost unbearable degree. This could be the best study of a psychopath since ‘Psycho’. Apparently audiences are now checking under their beds before they go to sleep. The film premieres in London at ‘Frightfest’ in August.