Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #584
Also known as Flatmate
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 28 December 2011
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: Spain
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Producers: Julio Fernández
Screenplay: Alberto Marini
Special Effects: Montse Ribé, Juan Carlos Dávila, David Martí
Visual Effects: Cesc Biénzobas
Cinematography: Pablo Rosso
Score: Lucas Vidal
Editing: Guillermo De La Cal
Studios: Filmax Entertainment, Castelao Pictures, Canal+ España
Distributors: MPI Media Group, Metrodome Distribution
Stars: Luis Tosar, Marta Etura, Alberto San Juan, Pep Tosar, Petra Martínez, Amparo Fernández, Iris Almeida, Roger Morilla, Margarita Rosed, Manel Dueso
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Buckcherry “Next 2 You”
 Katrina & The Waves “Walking on Sunshine”
 Was (Not Was) “Spy In The House of Love”
 Lucas Vidal “Sleep Tight”
Few things in life give me greater pleasure than seeing others around me happy. It thrills me to build up every buttercup I can just to spread that cherry blossom as far and wide as possible, with the goal of observing the knock-on effect and knowing that, in some small way, I have played a part in this positive process. On the flip side, I struggle with life’s glum naysayers, those for whom happiness isn’t quite so easily obtainable. Indeed I tend to surround myself with like-minded folk and gravitate towards light to fend off the darkness which I’m more than aware exists within me. It’s a personal choice thing as too much misery and I’m removed from my comfort zone and the blissful ignorance that supplies is swiftly relinquished. I wish to smile dagnabbit and, if the world around has no objection to flashing its dimples in unison, then utopia need not be such a pipe dream after all. Optimist and proud me and woe betide anyone who dares piss on my campfire. Actually fuck it, I’ll just build another if they do.
That said, I do understand that the decision to be happy isn’t necessarily ours to make. For some, the only joy available is endorsed by the misery of others and they’re never truly content until everyone else is suffering also. It’s a chemical imbalance, a tick that they cannot help but itch, a million faltering pheromones and not a damn thing they can do about it. If they’re to be all woebegone then it seems only fair that others are similarly sorrowful and, should they choose to return your smile, then it will invariably be concealing a faint grimace. These prophets of gloom exist all around us in every walk of life and, for all their brave faces, the eyes can tell no lies. Our achievements are their bereavements and the words “I’m really happy for you” translate roughly to “I hope your heart explodes”. It’s a crying shame if you ask me but the great human condition was never intended to make light reading so whatcha gonna do? Remember folks, it’s always the quiet ones.
Take apartment concierge César (Luis Tosar) for example. This ever-dependable doorstop is the embodiment of civil service and positively exudes kindliness and chivalry. The residents of the building under his pre-rostered jurisdiction are all in agreement, César is a bloody nice fellow and the very last man whose fine character one would even conceive of calling into question. He takes his role very seriously indeed to the point where he keeps extensive notes on all tenants and applies the personal touch wherever possible. As the establishment’s elected gatekeeper, the well-being of the occupants is very much his concern, only not quite in the manner you might expect from a bright-eyed bell-hop. You see, it would appear that César misread the job description when submitting his application.
While congenial in the extreme on lobby tennis surface level, he secretly loathes the very notion of any of his lodgers feeling the slightest bit exuberant and this makes bushy-tailed twentysomething Clara (Marta Etura) something of a recurring nightmare to him. Young, fresh as a lily, fetching in the extreme, happy-go-lucky, and with an enthusiasm seemingly impossible to curb, Clara makes César’s blood boil each morning as she bounds past his sorry ass, overspilling with ravishing radiance.
From the moment she ejects from bed like a pop tart and skips to the shower, her stride is spring-loaded and she’s a flock of chirruping bluebirds from a Disney Princess. César dare not ask the mirror on the wall who’s the fairest so he makes it his life’s work tearing her world apart strip by Technicolor strip instead. Let the games commence.
And commence they do. You see, César is of the opinion that a position is there purely to be abused to his own ends, and happens to hold a few cards of his own, despite being regarded as little more than lowly skivvy. Armed with extensive knowledge of her daily movements and fast-learning her weaknesses, he also possesses the master-key to her apartment and isn’t above settling for bottom bunk.
Night after night he lets himself in, waits it out beneath her mattress with his chloroform doused rag until such time as she’s arrived in La-La land to tot up some impossibly cute and fluffy lambs, then gets to work on tossing cockroaches about with the closest he’s ever likely to come to gay abandon. Then when she learns of the infestation, it’s knight in shining hazmat gear César on fumigation duties. And who says raving sociopaths can’t be gallant?
Frequently blackmailed by the snot-nosed girl across the hall from his victim, the authorities are also now showing an interest in affairs, and the net is beginning to close in around him. Alas for César, Clara is no easy nut to crack and, while we are beginning to discern a faint frown, it isn’t quite all-encompassing enough for his liking. Worse still, her boyfriend Marcos (Alberto San Juan) soon becomes concerned about her state of mind and invites himself over to claim the other side of the bed that César’s prowling beneath. Quick thinking is required here although it is becoming painfully clear to César that time is running out to emerge triumphant and desperate measures will need to be taken to remain one step ahead of the game.
Directed by Spanish leading light Jaume Balagueró, one half of the partnership that gift-wrapped us the rock solid [REC] series, Sleep Tight provides further evidence of just what he can bring to the table. He manages to take a well-trodden formula and put his own little unique spin on it, making for something of a breath of fresh air, laced with inner city smog. Alberto Marini’s screenplay is extremely well observed and cinematographer Pablo Rosso knows exactly when and how to pen us in.
There is a gloriously fever-pitch scene when César is on the verge of having to explain some fairly uncomfortable questions about his presence in Clara’s apartment at sunrise and this is even more significant given that we find ourselves gunning for his escape when we should be cradling Clara in our arms and putting our massive erections down to morning wood.
This is what elevates Sleep Tight into Roman Polanski territory in my opinion. Tosar is superb as conniving crank César and we’re never quite sure what is running through that beaten-browed balding head of his. It’s not about physical dominance to him and he seeks a far more subversive kind of victory, resulting from a fragmented past that it’s rightly decided unnecessary for him to share. That said, mother knows best, and regular visits to his bedridden forebearer provide him one captive audience to spill his blackened heart out to.
Judging by the look of abject horror in her eyes as he relays the day’s events to mommie dearest, I’d imagine he’d be straight over her knee with slipper at the ready if it weren’t for the whole terminal paralysis thing. Yet the fact that we cannot seem to stop ourselves from caring about the old grumpy guts speaks volumes for the gentle persuasiveness of his performance and the noiseless power of Balagueró’s storytelling.
Whether or not Sleep Tight robs you of any winks depends largely on your willingness to rent a room in César’s head and trust him to come good on the upkeep. There can be no denying that he’s one decidedly sick little puppy but the fact that he’s so incapable of feeling anything other than bummed makes him never less than a captivating subject to observe. The building itself is pretty much an unspoken metaphor for his mind’s inner sanctum and we rarely leave its fixtures and fittings, leaving us forced to kinda feel for him. As a result, we kinda feel for the film too and 102 minutes come and pass like some sneaky bastard has passed the chloroform-doused rag. I know one thing, I fully intend on hiding my toothbrush from now on.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: There couldn’t be less requisite for splatter as bloated body counts are something Balagueró is happy to save for his next [REC] reunion and this is him showing an entirely different side to his game. That said, we are provided with a little deep red coulis and it gushes freely enough to suggest a fresh neck tie may be in order. As for skin quota, any gum lickers amongst us will be cursing Clara just as much as poor César as it would appear that Etura has activated the Disney clause in her contract. Damn these method actors.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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