Sunday, October 22, 2017

PFF ’17: The Invisible Guest

Cell phones and the internet have undercut some of the traditional elements of mysteries and thrillers, but a locked room is still a locked room. Adrián Doria would know. He came to while locked in a hotel room with the dead body of his former mistress. That was super awkward. Nevertheless, the former rising star of Spanish industry might beat the wrap with the help of his expert trial consultant. However, he will have to tell her the full ugly truth in Oriol Paulo’s The Invisible Guest (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Apparently, Doria and his former lover Laura Vidal were lured to the hotel, by someone blackmailing them with evidence of the first killing. Okay, Doria will have to back-up a little for the benefit of his witness prepper, Virginia Goodman and the audience. Most likely, all his troubles started on the drive back from his final assignation with Vidal. Swerving to avoid a deer, they fatally run another motorist off the road instead. Since, he was dead anyway, they just disposed of the car and body.

Oh, but of course, it couldn’t be so simple. There was maybe, possibly a witness or two. Plus, as a supreme irony, Vidal found herself face-to-face with the young soon-to-be-missing-under-mysterious-circumstances man’s parents, when his retired engineer father volunteered to fix her stalled auto.

Paulo clearly enjoys springing surprises and dropping shoes on the audience. Yet, in this case he starts with a pretty twisty premise, in that the exculpatory circumstances of Doria’s prospective testimony might be just as damning. Presumably, that is why he needs a good trial consultant.

The first half-hour of Guest is rather glum, but once it has all its pieces set up, it is jolly entertaining to watch Paulo gleefully knock them over. He has a lot of tricks of his sleeve, some of which will make guffaw with disbelief, but it is still great fun watching him try to pull them off. You just have to go with it and enjoy getting played.

Anna Wagener is just terrific as Goodman. Smart and righteous in a good way, she makes her a trial consultant worthy of Agatha Christie. Likewise, José Coronado seethes with quiet power and dignity as the outraged father, Tomás Garrido. Bárbara Lennie is also quite remarkable giving Vidal, the presumptive femme fatale, subtly different shadings with each successive flashback. Mario Casas is a bit of a blank slate as Doria, but anyone would be passive while getting the lectury third degree from Goodman.

Yes, the truth is indeed slippery in Guest, but human nature is a rock-solid constant. Paulo cranks up the tension and generally aims to please genre fans. The result is a film that should be a prime candidate for an English language remake, but it just wouldn’t be as good with over-exposed Hollywood thesps in the lead roles. Enthusiastically recommended, The Invisible Guest screens tomorrow (10/23) and Thursday (10/26) during this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival.