Reviews - Sleep Tight
Reviewed By John Porter
We begin as a man wakes, seemingly from a nightmare in which he is on the cusp of throwing himself off a roof. As he rises from bed and tiptoes out so as not to wake the girl beside him, his voice in blank narration tells us that he is lonely, and that every day is a struggle to continue. He is a concierge in the block, and we follow him around his chores in a cumulative drag of slow tracking shots. He greets the people who live in the building with patience and kindly attentiveness, yet without any real connection. We see him talking to his paralysed mother about how he is losing Clara (Marta Etura), the girl of the earlier waking scene. This is indeed a life lived in anxiety and sadness. Something however is not quite right, and after hinting at a hidden darkness, the movie takes a plunge into a precise, disturbing exercise of obsessive voyeurism and control. The roof was not a nightmare, and Clara is definitely not his girlfriend.
In the opening ten minutes, by using a cinematographic style based on these languid tracking shots which reinforce the loneliness of Cesar's (Lois Tosar) voiceover, the movie lays a snare for the viewer which is all consuming, and we buy into his sorry life as something of pity. The real purpose of the visual style however lies not in this portrayal of loneliness, but in it's duplicitous possibilities. It is at this point that the viewer begins to be made an accomplice of the storyline: As more sordid truths are revealed, Balaguero's same sad tracking shots become a key component of the movie's atmosphere of malevolence and unease. In this way, the movie’s narrative grows into its style's true function. The style can be kept consistent, yet it's meaning changes, and like the early portrayal of Cesar’s life, the atmosphere too reveals itself to be a different beast as more information is brought to light.
The viewer as a co-conspirator to the tale does not stop here however, and in knowing the truth of the situation, as we once saw the proceedings from the point of view of "Cesar the Lonely Man", it is now a prerequisite that we also see them from the point of view of "Cesar the Stalker". It is strangely unsettling for the viewer to be aligned with such a character in this way, and Balaguero carries the fruits of the early scenes which trap the audience into this position through to their ultimate conclusion during a scene in which we see Cesar attempting to escape the flat of his victim undetected. It is a bold decision for a director to create a suspense the success of which is dependant upon the audience rooting for such a repugnant protagonist, and a decision which demands
attention for it's sheer audacity.
In terms of genre, Horror conventions are subverted to the extent that the monster is no longer a creature of shadow, because we see more from his perspective than from that of the victim; The home is no longer a safe place invaded by a menace, but a laboratory for his sordid experiments. Therefore the unsettling aura created by the movie is based more on the position from which the audience is forced to watch, and more specifically this position of complicity combined with the nature of the proceedings which are to be viewed. Cesar dons surgeons masks and wears long cotton jackets whilst gazing at his helpless victim - all staple pieces of Horror iconography, yet the calm and collected way in which they are portrayed gives us not horrific terror, but a stunned incredulity at the creepiness of it all. The colour schemes are bland and realistic throughout, giving ample opportunity for the director to achieve cheap shocks with contrasting chrome flashes from the dark or Hammer-red blood, but this is a method he never resorts to - when we see night, it is lit with realism, and any bloodletting is far from the theatrical. The world created is one of the believable, making the events within it all the more chilling.
The casting of Luis Tosar, familiar to Keswick Film Club members from last season’s "Even the Rain", with his heavy-set eyebrows and blank features seems an inspired one, and his presence is one of inexplicable and thoroughly believable depravity. "Cesare" is also the name of the somnambulist carrying out nightime abuses in Wiene’s expressionist milestone "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari", yet the movie seems to draw more from Clouzot's classic, "Les diaboliques", and the cold calculations of Claude Charbrol's 1970s thrillers.
Even during the the final scenes, Balaguero is still controlling the release of information into the narrative with a torturous, twisted fascination. Cesar's matter of fact voice-over spells out what was already insinuated, and as Clara lifts her baby we are left looking at it's face in a different light, allowing the viewers' newfound knowledge to once again colour the pictures into darker shades. If the movie succeeds anywhere it is in this control over it's style, ultimately manipulating the audience into a mental web just as depraved as the one created by Cesar.
Next week at the Alhambra we have labyrinthine issues of trust with the Russian war drama "In the Fog", recently nominated for the Palme D'Or.
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