César's mission in life is to make everyone as miserable as he is. The only time anything resembling a smile ever creeps across his face is when he's successfully made someone else's life a living hell. César's latest project is Clara (Marta Etura), a gorgeous, infectiously joyous woman in her late twenties. Clara is so bright-eyed and optimistic that no matter what minor tortures César throws her way, she shrugs it off with a toothy grin. It escalates, and as the full extent of César's obsession begins to take shape, what at first seem like devious fits of mischief devolve into something far more dark and depraved.
Sleep Tight inverts the traditional thriller formula, unspooling almost entirely from the perspective of the tormentor rather than the tormented. César is the bad guy, sure, but he's also the protagonist. That's not without precedent. Think back to Psycho as Norman Bates tries to submerge the evidence of a grisly murder in a nearby swamp. When Marion Crane's car all of a sudden stops sinking, the heart of every last viewer for the past half-century skips a beat. Just moments earlier, we'd seen the focal point of the film stabbed mercilessly in a shower, and now we want Norman to get away with it. Of course, Hitchcock had the advantage of Norman not being entirely unlikeable at the outset. Strange, to be sure, but awkwardly charming just the same.
[REC] director Jaume Balagueró, meanwhile, wastes no effort pretending that there's anything the least bit redeeming about César. From word one, he's a cold, soulless sociopath whose compulsions demand that he hide behind a quietly charming façade. It's a testament to the skill of all involved -- director Balagueró, screenwriter Alberto Marini, and certainly actor Luis Tosar -- that César remains so endlessly compelling. It helps that at first he seems like more of a prankster...one that's a little crueler than average, yeah, but since his victims don't realize that they're victims, exactly, it
Much of the allure of Sleep Tight comes from its disinterest in stock thriller convention. There is no layer of whodunnit. There are no frantic cat-and-mouse chases. There's only one sequence of explicit violence. As low-key and understated as that might sound, Sleep Tight executes it brilliantly. The film is unrelentingly engaging, benefitting immeasurably from Balagueró's command of pacing and tone. It's a delicate balancing act, juggling a sort of playfulness in with the depravity, and yet Sleep Tight never once stumbles. It delivers well-earned shocks without leaning on sharp left-turn twists. Sleep Tight also manages to be deeply disturbing without relying on exploitative, excessively visceral theatrics. The intimacy of its setting -- of home -- plays no small role in that. I found it unsettling that, for at least a short while, it's uncertain who the audience is supposed to root for, exactly. ...and the ending! There just...there aren't words.
Sleep Tight ranks among the most unique and wildly effective thrillers I've stumbled upon in years. On my usual message board haunts, Sleep Tight seems to have slunk in under the radar -- despite director Jaume Balagueró's genre credentials! -- but hopefully that won't remain the case for long. Sleep Tight is a disturbing yet deeply rewarding discovery on Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.
Lensed on 35mm, Sleep Tight benefits from a wonderfully filmic appearance that sets it apart from the legions of other modestly budgeted and invariably digitally photographed thrillers competing for the same shelf space. Detail and clarity are both terrific. I'm enthralled with cinematographer Pablo Rosso's painterly approach to color and shadow, especially the way those hues help sculpt a scene's tone without being heavy-handed about it.
On the other hand, black levels have been mastered incorrectly; even the letterboxing bars at the top and bottom of the frame fail to offer pure blacks. The bitrate is passable but not quite adequate for a film with this challenging texture. Though I suppose it could just be a factor of the way the film grain and lighting play together, some of the more dimly-lit sequences suffer from what looks like posterization and what I'd swear is dithering. I've snapped a couple of examples below, although they need to be expanded to full-size for the effect to be appreciated:
I did find some of these flaws to be distracting, though not at all to the point of being a dealbreaker.
Sleep Tight arrives on a single layer Blu-ray disc, with its AVC encode and lossless audio taking up less than 17 gigs in all. The film is presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1.
Oriol Tarragó's masterful sound design is rendered flawlessly in this 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The 5.1 mix consistently sounds lush and alive, filling every speaker with color. There's even some directionality to the dialogue as César waits underneath a bed and his prey moves throughout the room. The lower frequencies are impressively robust as well, though they never threaten to overwhelm the clean, clear Spanish line readings. It comes as little surprise that Sleep Tight took home a statuette for Best Sound at the 4th Annual Gaudí Awards.
Sleep Tight is presented exclusively in its original Spanish. Subtitles are offered in English (traditional, by default, as well as SDH) and Spanish. The default English subs do
The Final Word
Sleep Tight upends most of the familiar thriller conventions as it leers at the disturbing obsession of a sociopath...a compulsion to invade his latest target's life in ways far more intimate than she would never have dreamt possible. Here's hoping that Sleep Tight garners the attention on these shores that it so richly deserves now that the film has found its way to Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.