Josh is a young gamer confined to a wheelchair. He is also a teenager craving a bit more independence and wants to assert himself, especially with his father Frank, who is having a bit of a mid-life crisis himself.
One night Josh asks to keep the light on as his father helps him get to bed. Josh hopes to exercise a little autonomy in his life, but Frank resists, seeing the request as proof that Josh is still a young child in need. But as it turns out, when the lights go out, Josh discovers he’s not alone — and needs his dad more than ever.
Written and directed by Lewis Taylor, this horror-comedy is as much about a transition in a father-son relationship as it is about things that go bump in the night. But these weighty themes are offset by a stream of cheeky British wit, ironic character observation and a playful, affectionate stylistic homage to 80s horror movies that’s immense fun to watch.
The narrative is essentially two scenes. The first is between the father and son, as the father tries to get his teenage son to stop playing games and get to bed. The pair rib and chuff one another, but there are moments of friction when it’s clear that the son wants some degree of independence. The father realizes this intellectually, but following through with it is a different proposition.
Actors Mark Field and Joseph Richard Thomas as father and son have an easygoing rapport, and the difference between them that bubbles up is muted and played more with a sense of exasperation than outright conflict. But the character dynamic is set up nicely through the dialogue and performance, and while it’s funny, it’s also clear that Frank needs to start seeing his son as a growing young man, not as a child.
The second scene is the heart of the film, which constructs a sequence of suspense and tension in the cinematic grammar of a classic horror film. Smart, energetic editing, a high-stakes score, jump cuts and lurid cinematography build up an unseen menace, but the filmmaking also has a secondary agenda, paying tribute to the creature horror films of the 1980s, particularly with the use of practical effects and the almost exaggerated style. The ending, too, blends humor and horror in a way that fans of cult classics like “An American Werewolf in London” might understand, but with a uniquely clever wit all of its own.
Entertaining, compact and well-crafted, “Sleep Tight” ends with a note of suspense and a bit of a punchline. But there’s also a rueful irony that belongs entirely to the film. To go into specifics would ruin what becomes an unexpectedly layered joke, but it concludes the question of whether or not Josh will ever be seen as a grown-up by his father. He does, completing the narrative arc and answering its central question. But that turn comes at the worst possible point (and in a very funny way). But it perhaps proves the long-running adage that sons and daughters may always need their parents — and that parents just don’t understand.