Sleep Tight is a creepy—but highly effective and superbly made—horror movie from Spain in which the monster is spine-tinglingly human. The logo in the ads reads “Someone Is Watching Over You,” and they’re not just whistling Vaya Con Dios. Set in an otherwise upscale apartment building in Barcelona, everything looks inviting. It’s the doorman you want to beware of.
The keeper of the keys—who goes bump in the night, in more ways than one—is César (Luis Tosar). As the super as well as the concierge, he’s privy to the needs, secrets and problems of every tenant in the building—and victim to all their complaints. He feeds their dogs. He changes their locks. He fixes their plumbing. It’s time to get even. You see, Cesar has a problem too. He was born miserable. Nothing makes him smile. The only way Cesar can feel happy is to find ingenious ways to inflict fear, anxiety and pain on others. He is also a voyeur. He watches people brushing their teeth, sitting on the toilet, taking a shower. The current object of his fascination is Clara, a lovely and perky young woman whose platonic friendliness he labels insincere enough to deserve special punishment. First, he enters her apartment with his passkey while she’s at work and injects furniture-cleaning irritants into her beauty creams. While she’s in the agony of a skin rash, he doubles her troubles by hiding rotting food that attracts an infestation of cockroaches. It’s not long before Clara’s cheerfulness is successfully scuttled and she’s headed for a breakdown. But Cesar is just getting started.
Infatuation turns to a sick obsession. Distracted from his quest by walking the dogs of an old dowager named Veronica, he feeds them poison snacks that makes them too ill to leave the building. His only nemesis is a child, nothing less than a precocious Spanish version of little Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed, who spies on him, then blackmails him into bringing her adult porno films. He has a workable antidote for her, too. When daylight becomes too restrictive, Cesar takes to hiding under Clara’s bed at night. His fascination with torment leads to an insatiable lust. After Clara’s boyfriend gets wise and Cesar, growing careless, eventually enters at the wrong time, the boyfriend confronts him. Too late—and what happens next will curl your hair.
The suspense is so nerve-wracking that comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock are unavoidable, but to me Sleep Tight more closely resembles Roman Polanski’s The Tenant, both in style and tone. Here is a unique fright flick that sets out to terrify and does it to capacity, eschewing fangs and claws to find chills and thrills in the unquenchable evil of human madness. The mood is black, but director Jaume Balagueró matches the shocks in Alberto Marini’s goosebump-inducing screenplay with the mordant beat of a zombie’s heart. Vital to the overall toxicity of both, the central performance by Luis Tosar is a key element. With haunting Boris Karloff eyes that are pernicious pools of darkness, this bogeyman conveys a brooding intensity. I wouldn’t want to meet him face to face under a streetlamp on Halloween night.
Running Time 102 minutes
Written by Alberto Marini
Directed by Jaume Balagueró
Starring Luis Tosar, Marta Etura and Alberto San Juan