Mientras duermes (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
César (Luis Tosar) claims he has never been happy his entire life, not even when good things happen to him. But he has a solution: by making those around him completely miserable, maybe being unhappy will not be so bad. César works as a concierge in an apartment complex thereby having access to the keys to the residents’ front doors. He has managed to make everyone unhappy with the exception of Clara (Marta Etura), always having a skip to her walk and a smile on her face every time she steps out of the elevator, down the hall, and onto the streets. César feels an inconsolable need to destroy her.
“Mientras duermes,” based on the screenplay by Alberto Marini, has a very dark and sharp sense of wit and humor about it which is made all the more compelling by a main character so creepy, watching the film will make you want to look under your bed and behind your closet before you turn off the lights and head on to dreamland.
It is not without a carefully constructed scenes of suspense. César is a man of habit and he will do almost anything to stick to what he knows. He knows Clara is alone in her apartment and so before she comes home from work, he sneaks into her place and hides under her bed. He waits so patiently without making a sound until she goes to sleep. When everything seems to be safe, he slides out from under very meticulously and uses chloroform to knock her out. Then the real terror begins.
This may sound like a cheap exploitation film but it is actually quite the contrary. We know he is bound to get caught one way or another. The question is when, under what circumstances, and how he will react. The girl who lives across Clara, Úrsula (Iris Almeida), knows exactly what is going on but she does not tell anyone as long as César gives her everything she wants. We, as well as the main character, know that the blackmail is simply a leak that is plugged but not fixed. What he eventually ends up doing to Úrsula is cruel and amusing. Since the execution is controlled and complements the material’s tone so well, it works as morbid entertainment.
What works less effectively is the manner in which César’s suicidal thoughts is communicated. Scenes that take place on the roof while he contemplates jumping are wasted minutes. We know he is not going to jump because the movie will be over otherwise. Hence, the tension is not only minimized, it also disrupts the details of César’s extracurricular activities. We are creeped out by him and yet we cannot help but watch him. As much as he is enslaved by his thoughts and habits, so is our curiosity to the subject.
Directed by Jaume Balagueró, “Sleep Tight” engages us by playing with our fears especially in terms of what is going on in other people’s heads because we really have no way of discerning thoughts from true intentions. It follows in the footsteps of great thrillers in that it has a knack for turning our worries into uneasy chuckles without minimizing the darkness and cruelty from behind César’s eyes–the very same window that we are forced to look out on.