Despite the prevalence of such technology as caller ID, surveillance video cameras, and the like, there are still plenty of ways to harass another person if that's the intended goal. What remains a bit of a mystery, however, are the varying reasons one might `watch' another person. For some, there's a desire to know all that's knowable about some curiosity that takes the shape of another human being; and for others the underlying cause is much darker, much more ominous. This type of personality - one obsessed with violating others as an act of mental torture - is the most dangerous because the victim may not know he (or she) is a victim until it's much too late to do anything about it, and this is the subject matter explored to great effect in Jaume Balaguero's SLEEP TIGHT.
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
César (played to sublime perfection by Luis Tosar) appears to be little more than a rather ordinary day-time attendant for a posh apartment building. Beneath the surface, however, he has a deep-rooted conviction to make others psychologically miserable. Clara (the lovely Marta Etura) captures most of his attention; the young, attractive, upbeat woman can't quite catch a break, never quite coming to grips with her increasing gloominess - all due to César's machinations. However, the line between obsession and madness is crossed, and, when César can't help himself any longer, she'll find herself aghast at the climax of his unwanted affections.
Much of SLEEP TIGHT deals principally with César's macabre actions, and, rest assured, you're likely to never approach the level of creepiness in another motion picture any time soon. Without spoiling too much of it, the man surreptitiously manages to infiltrate the residents' lives with increasing ease. By offering little more than a passing observation here and a veiled insult there, he practically smothers the goodness out of these people, and none of them - except a rare few - even happen to take notice. What he somehow directly pulls off - as the building's attendant, he has spare keys, after all - is no less astonishing, though I'd imagine some skeptical viewers might take exception with a few plots of his making. Some of them happen a bit too easily - with a bit too much fortuitous circumstance - but they're still shocking when you see it all on film.
Of course, being as close to them as he is, it's clear how he starts the ball rolling toward outright manipulation. Having access to their homes gives them, minimally, circumstantial access to their lives - i.e. the purchase of many insecticides might establish the foundation of the fear of insects - but they're none the wiser when these horrors come to life. Given time, someone does catch sight of some possible shenanigans - a young girl who uses her knowledge to her own selfish benefit - but she's not smart enough to play the game the way César has planned it, and she finds herself many chess moves behind his masterful attacks.
However, César's antics might not seem so dire if they were not married as they were to so many other performances grounded in naturalism. Etura's Clara comes across as the spunky girl-next-door every guy is destined to fall head over heels for and every gal wants to be friends with. Petra Martinez (as the aging Veronica) is the senior matron of the building - she's quick to offer César a slice of pie in exchange for doing her favors - and she could be any average neighborhood lady known for her grace, politeness, and approachability. Even Iris Almeida as the devious Ursula - the little girl who believes she's uncovered César's foul play - works as a victim here because she's grounded in a natural performance - despite the circumstances, she could be just the average little girl, leaving audiences to feel for her once they know her plight. It's a delicate balance managed thematically that makes these complex relationships work as effectively as they do.
While the film never quite clarifies the exact cause for César's motivations - there are strong hints toward a very weird connection to his mother and more than a passing implication of one's personal happiness - what it does explore is stark enough. It's an unsettling cinematic experience brought to life from a script by Alberto Marini and directed by Jaume Balaguero that'll indisputably cause some folks to lose sleep despite the caution of the title.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out how widely praised SLEEP TIGHT has been by the film community at large. The film has been nominated and won acclaims in several prestigious festivals, including the Chicago International Film Festival (where it won the Silver Huge in the `After Dark' Competition); the Cinema Writers Circle Awards (multiple nominations); the Gaudi Awards (multiple nominations AND multiple wins); the Goya Awards; the Spanish Actors Union; and the World Soundtrack Awards. Certainly, all that praise only underscores that SLEEP TIGHT is, indeed, something special to behold.
SLEEP TIGHT is produced by Canal+ Espana, Castelao Producciones, Coser y Cantar, Cubica, Filmax Entertainment, and a few others (feel free to check IMDB.com, if you're so inclined). DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications, so very very much of the film looks and sounds exceptional as the very nature of this story perhaps requires a close examination of all details. This is a Spanish language production with English subtitles available. Sadly, there's really only a single special features - an inside look at the world created by Cesar - though I suppose they get points for including the theatrical trailer as well.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. SLEEP TIGHT might very well keep you up at night, if you let it. It'll definitely have you checking the noise under your bed. It's a legitimately creepy, atmospheric thriller - probably one of the best of the `stalking' variety ever committed to film - that occasionally stretches the bounds of believability, but it's no less sinister.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD screener of SLEEP TIGHT for the expressed purposes of completing this review.