In one of the most famous scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Anthony Perkins tries to dispose of a murder victim by putting her in the trunk of her car and then pushing it into a swamp. As the vehicle sinks—way too slowly—the film momentarily encourages the audience to sympathize with a madman’s frustrations. Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight is like a feature-length version of that Psycho scene. Luis Tosar stars as a misanthropic, suicidal apartment-complex doorman/handyman who’s dedicated himself to making the residents’ lives miserable, in ways both subtle and horrific. He waters the plants at the wrong time of day, so they’ll die; he feeds one old woman’s dog the wrong food, to give it diarrhea; he hides rotten fruit in the back of a refrigerator; and so on. He’s especially determined to depress the chipper, pretty young Marta Etura. He sends her threatening letters and texts, and sneaks into her apartment to inject skin-irritants into her beauty products and to plant insect eggs. As Tosar perpetually skirts around the edge of being caught—or being exposed by Etura’s nosy pre-teen neighbor Iris Almeida Molina—the viewer has to decide whether to root for this creep to succeed.
Granted, it isn’t that big of a dilemma. As much of a sad-sack as Tosar is, he’s never likeable, per se—which means Sleep Tight is mainly just a clever exercise in inverting a common suspense plot, by holding to the prowler’s point of view. The shift in perspective also means Sleep Tight isn’t terribly scary, because the audience is stuck with the person who has almost all the power: the stalker, not the stalkee. But Balagueró—best known for directing the first two parts of the [Rec] series—has a fine control of pacing and tone, and is able to keep Sleep Tight gripping throughout, right up its shocking final act. The whole movie could be seen as a high-difficulty challenge for the director and for screenwriter Alberto Marini, who try to keep viewers involved with the machinations of a terrible human being. This is a crime story with little to no interest in the who or the why, but only the what and the how. It’s a reverse-procedural, tracking not the solution of a crime, but all of its awful particulars.