The basic premise of “Sleep Tight” is simple enough; it’s a stalker movie. But some ingenious variations, shrewd direction, and a killer lead performance render it fresh and absolutely entertaining. You’ll wonder how you never thought of this yourself, and then maybe feel relieved that you didn’t.
At the front desk of an apartment building in Spain sits the unflappably polite César (Luis Tosar). They call him the “concierge”; his duties run the gamut from doorman to maintenance man to dogsitter. He has all the appearance of a humble and happy servant, but he is miserable.
The bright spot in his day is when he gets to see Clara (Marta Etura), one of the building’s lovelier tenants. His fascination with her goes much deeper than she realizes. I don’t want to get into the specifics of it, because one of the many satisfying delights in Alberto Marini’s screenplay is the way it gradually reveals the layers of this obsession. Suffice it to say that it’s wonderfully creepy.
Once the scenario has been established, the film explores all the ramifications of it, including all the ways it can go wrong for César. The best part? He’s a skeevy, loathsome person — and we’re rooting for him not to get caught. You gotta love a movie that puts us on the side of the creep.
Much of the success in that area comes from the tight, suspenseful direction by Jaume Balagueró, the Spanish filmmaker whose terrific “[REC]” was remade as “Quarantine.” Inherent in the skin-crawlingly creepy situation in “Sleep Tight” are many opportunities for tight close-ups of people being very, very quiet. Balagueró plays these to the hilt, ratcheting up the suspense incrementally from one sequence to the next.
And of course all of it is helped by Luis Tosar’s calm and unsettling performance as César. He’s an intriguing antihero, a character who elicits pity rather than sympathy, distaste rather than outright contempt. Not every aspect of his story comes together as satisfyingly as the rest of the film, but when it comes to sheer twisted obsession, his methodical approach is impressive.
B+ (1 hr., 42 min.; Spanish with subtitles; )