Sleep Tight (2011): Scary Spanish Thriller

Sleep_Tight

Directed by Jaume Balagueró who is the man behind REC, REC 2 , Fragile, and Darkness; so his bona fides in the horror/thriller genre are beyond question. He has not disappointed with his latest entry into the genre with Sleep Tight. Even with such an impressive pedigree of horror films under his belt, Wikipedia states that this is the first film that Jaume has directed solo since the 2005 horror/thriller Fragile.

The Plot: 

Concierge Cesar appears at first glance to be the capable and ever helpful  sort of man who has everyone’s best interests at heart. We soon learn that this facade is paper thin and he only wants to spread misery and unhappiness amongst his charges. He develops an obsession with the eternally cheerful Clara who has thus far resisted his attempts to wipe the ubiquitous smile off her face. He goes to great lengths to ensure that her life is ruined. This spreading of misery is what truly makes Cesar happy and he will stop at nothing to reach his goal.

The Cast:

Luis Tosar
César
Marta Etura
Clara
Alberto San Juan
Marcos
Petra Martínez
Sra. Verónica
Iris Almeida
Úrsula (as Iris Almeida Molina)
Cesar aka Luis Tosar.
Cesar aka Luis Tosar.

The Device:

Cesar uses his position as the apartment’s Concierge to gain access to all the tenants private lives.

The Twist:

Cesar himself is the twist, but you will ask yourself, was the woman in the hospital really  his Madre (mother)?

The Characters:

Cesar is a real piece of work. He has a smile for everyone and is pleasantly charming while he weaves his nasty spell. Señora Veronica is a older single woman who has dogs instead of children and is lonely. Ursula is a nosey and perhaps younger version of Cesar; she knows what he’s doing. Clara is the beautiful, friendly and eternally optimistic tenant who Cesar wants to ruin. He feels that his life’s purpose is to share his pathological unhappiness with the world.

Watching this film, I could not help but make a connection between Cesar and Stephen King’s milkman, Spike Milligan, in his short story Morning Deliveries. Both this film and the short story created the same feeling of unease crossed with distaste bordering on alarm.

The eternally cheerful Clara aka
The eternally cheerful Clara aka Marta Etura.

The Action:

This film kept me on the edge of my seat. Halfway through the film, it became almost unwatchable as Cesar gets more and more daring in his pursuit of unhappiness for Clara. There are some scenes towards the end of the film that had me clenching my teeth and white-knuckling my chair. The suspense was nigh on unbearable and the tension was excruciating.

The Verdict:

All the actors did a marvellous job selling their characters. Louis Tosar, who made me think so much of Joaquin Phoenix that I began to wonder if they were indeed brothers, as Cesar was beyond brilliant. And Marta Etura kept up her end of the acting bargain. Even the little girl who shadows Cesar’s actions does a superb job. Actor Alberto San Juan who shows up towards the end of the film as Clara’s boyfriend Marcos also does a more than adequate turn in the limited time given to his character.

This was a real 5 star film filled with slow moving Dionysian pathos and unbearable tension as we wait for Cesar to get caught, arrested or killed. If this the work that Juame Balagueró is capable of when he directs solo, they should let him do all his further projects alone.

Watch this film.

I wouldn't want this guy in my closet.
I wouldn’t want this guy in my closet.

Darkness (2002): Wake Me When it’s Over

I decided to give the 2002 film Darkness  another chance today. I pulled up LOVEFILM and streamed it. Unfortunately  time hasn’t improved the films impact on me. It still doesn’t work and definitely does not scare me.

Directed by Jaume Balagueró I was surprised that I didn’t like the film.  Jaume impressed the living hell out of me with Fragile and [Rec]Of course Fragile does resemble Darkness to a degree, in essence Darkness could be seen as a prelude to the other two films.

The film has a quality cast:

Anna Paquin – Regina

Lena Olin – Maria

Iain Glen – Mark

Giancarlo Giannini – Albert Rua

But having a great cast isn’t enough if they’ve been cast incorrectly or just poorly. I adore all the actors in this film, just not in this film.

Giancarlo Giannini has captivated me with his performances for years and he was really the only thing in the film that came close to a saving grace. Unfortunately he had too little screen time and the plot itself was so convoluted it made his contribution less than minimal.

The film starts with a montage of sequences that play against the voices of a young child and a man. The man is trying to find out where the boy came from and where the rest of the ‘children’ are.

I will not try to advance much more than a very basic plot summary. *Wikipedia states the heavy cuts required to get the film a PG-13 rating in the USA definitely effected the film. After trying  to follow the film’s plot, I think that Wiki was spot on with their information.*

The film’s ‘plot’ revolves around a solar eclipse that occurred forty years ago. A ritual of child sacrifice was supposed to release an ancient evil. Unfortunately Mark (Glen) escaped before the ritual could be finished, because his father (Giannini) can’t go through with it.

Now the eclipse is happening again and forces have gathered to ensure that, this time, the ritual is finished.

The problems with the film are legion. Firstly, the looping or ADR is bad. This entire cast of capable actors all sound flat, disconnected and uninterested. Everyone, with the exception of Giannini sound like they are reading their lines.

The lighting is dire. Yes, I know the title of the film and its core plot is Darkness. But folks if you can’t see the film you need to lighten it up a bit.

Last in the list of things that don’t work in the film (truth be told, it’s only last because I have to stop writing this review somtime) has to do, again, with the sound. The dubbing is the next best thing to atrocious. It had a sort of time warp experience. I really felt that I had stumbled back to the days of Steve Reeves and all those ‘Sword and Sandal’ films and the Leone Spaghetti Westerns where actor Mickey Knox ‘dubbed’ all the other voices in the film.

Although Darkness is in fact a Spanish production it certainly feels  like a kissing cousin to those old Italian films.

The film is worth a look just for Giannini’s abbreviated appearance or perhaps to see a much younger Paquin going through her paces.

In all honesty, those are the only reasons that I would recommend seeing this film for.