Horror fans certainly know the name Jaume Balagueró. Known for his infectious and terrifying series of [REC] films (remade here in the states as Quarantine), the director stepped back from the world of hardcore effects, viral scares, and creepy found footage to frighten his fans with something a bit more quiet and realistic. Sleep Tight (out on Blu-ray and DVD on January 8 from Dark Sky Films) is a fantastic little thriller that deserves a much bigger audience. What it lacks in gory special effects and zombie craziness, it easily makes up for in its subtle, old-school horror feel and its characterization of one very twisted individual.
FEARnet recently sat down with writer/director Jaume Balagueró to discuss his latest horror film, his upcoming film [REC]⁴, and the appeal of realistic horror.
Sleep Tight actually reminds me a bit of what I think is your most underrated movie, Darkness. They both have more of a slow burn, thriller-esque feel to them as opposed to something like the [REC] films that are more pure horror. After being immersed in the [REC] films for the last few years, how different was it to go back to something like Sleep Tight that was a little bit quieter in tone and pacing?
After the experience of [REC], which was set up to be very intense physical horror in both plot and pacing, I felt the need to return to a more conventional and calculated film. The script for Sleep Tight came to me at just the right time. It was the perfect opportunity to develop a classic story and to explore horror from a more conventional sense. Being calmer, it allowed me to create a much more sophisticated brand of suspense – with classic elements of conventional film language, such as its music, editing, and staging.
In the beginning of the film, the voiceover says "there's always a way to be happy." Do you feel like Sleep Tight's main character César truly believes the only way for him to be happy is for him to make others miserable? Or do you think that's more of an excuse he tells himself to relieve the guilt of his urge to do all these terrible things he does to Clara (and presumably others before her)?
It’s hard to tell, but I'm sure that César has convinced himself of his inability to be happy. In that belief, there is something terrible but profoundly human. Satisfaction in the failure of others is much more common than we think, and although it makes us uncomfortable to admit it, we have all had those feelings. The problem here is that César takes this feeling far beyond what is acceptable, transforming himself into an extremely dangerous and unpredictable psychopath.
Sleep Tight is a very pure thriller/horror in the sense that there are not nearly as much effects work needed as something like the [REC] films. I can think of a few scenes that would have needed it (the fight, for example), but for the most part the film gets its scares through effective use of music, quietness, subtlety, and great acting. Did it feel good to be able to do something a little less effects heavy or do you prefer to work on the more fantastical films with loads of effects work?
In the broadest sense, I’m a lover of fantasy films. I love movies with special effects just as much as films that are based more heavily on characters and plot. I think every story calls for a different type of film. Sleep Tight is a horror story about the everyday world, based on the little things all around us that we recognize. The less special effects we put in it, the more believable it would be.
The first sleeping scene, when César crawls out and puts the mask on, is done in nearly complete silence. Most less-skilled directors would have placed some subtle score over it to build the tension. Tell me about your decision to keep it silent. Do you feel that silence tends to be creepier and scarier than emotion driven by music?
In this case, it was clear that the more realistic we presented everything, the more disturbing it would all be to the viewer. The absence of music and sound effects make the viewer feel like they’re there with our characters. Silence, having the scene in near real-time, the hyper-realistic sound of Clara breathing as she sleeps, and César’s small gestures are far more threatening than any music.
Are there any films that you looked at (or showed your crew) as inspiration before, or while, shooting Sleep Tight?
When I start working on a new film I always make the effort to clear my head of any references, which is not easy, I assure you! From scratch, I try not to be influenced by all of the movies I have inside my head – although I inevitably end up influenced by things I’ve seen and loved. A director is largely what he or she has lived and seen. Despite this, there was a movie that I did always keep in mind, although I avoided seeing it again: Roman Polanski’s The Tenant.
What's next for you? Is there anything you can tell us about [REC]⁴ Apocalypse?
[REC]⁴ will be my next movie. In fact, we’re already in preproduction. I can’t say much, really – only that it will reveal a lot of secrets, and will be a return to pure and simple horror.
Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight hits stores on Blu-ray and DVD on January 8.