The room is large, with opened floor to ceiling windows, a maw to the storm outside. A woman in full bridal whites (Stella, played by Camilla Filippi) is distraught, ready to leap out into the night, presumably to her death, when the doorbell rings and the intimacy of her plan is broken. At the door is a stranger (Guido Caprino), claiming to have a reservation to lodge in her guestroom, which has been taken out of use for months, as she informs him. The man claims to have spoken to her husband Sandro. He has come a long way and to return in the storm would be too much of a burden to bear. He begs his way into the house, and she relents.
The taught opening to The Guest Room, co-written and directed by Stefano Lodovichi, is beautifully shot and performed, containing within it the necessary intrigue to pull the viewer into this intimate Italian thriller. The stranger arrives proving charming enough, even having knowledge of Stella and the home, lending credence to his claims of knowing her husband, but he also pushes boundaries with the emotionally fragile Stella in a way that drives the mystery and tension through the first act. He takes liberties in the conversation that made me uncomfortable. By the time that Sandro arrives, the viewer is left with many questions as to who this man is and what his intentions are. Indeed, it is Sandro’s arrival that provides the key upon which the story tumbles into its unique web of story, and the stranger begins to take control of the house so that he might right the wrongs of this couple’s choices. By the midway point, we begin to understand and the gambit of the film builds steam.
The Guest Room is a film that must be absorbed to be enjoyed, largely due to it’s dialog driven narrative that will have to be absorbed via subtitles for non Italian speaking viewers. This is not a film that provides a constant drip of scares or gore, but rather one that builds dramatic tension over the ninety minute runtime, producing new questions for the viewer to ponder as it unfolds. Stella is clearly a woman struggling with her mental health, Sandro seems estranged to the point of having been done with this home and what may have happened here before the arrival of this stranger. This is something of a home Invasion thriller, but not in the sense we’d normally use the designation. For fans of high drama and psychological horror, this will make for an exhilarating watch, while fans of raw horror will likely leave the experience feeling it a bit too highbrow for their tastes.
Much like an M. Night Shyamalan film, the drama of The Guest Room revolves around a reveal that provides the foundation for the entire experience (a “tweest,” as Doc Rotten would say,) making it difficult to say more about the story. In my experience, the movie acquitted itself in such a way as to make the journey worthwhile. Despite such a small cast and a single location shoot, the story never felt stifled to me, and the twist and it’s resolutions were satisfying to experience. The performances were gripping, the camerawork crisp and compelling, and while the story didn’t blow my mind, it also didn’t disappoint. While it’s tempting to say in almost every review, with a film of this nature it’s especially true that this won’t be for everyone. There are answers that aren’t central to the narrative themes of the movie that some people will want to have been answered. There aren’t an array of jump scares or life threatening scenarios. Rather, this is a cerebral film shining a light on the potential horrors of a couple attempting to find comfort of family in the contemporary world, and having that go astray simply because life does what it does. While for some, the experience may lack the thrills sought after in a horror experience, for someone like myself that often struggles in his day to day, these themes in conjunction with excellent film making were enough to resonate with me in a way that allows me to recommend this film.
Available on Digital HD & Cable VOD October 25th from Red Water Entertainment.
- THE GUEST ROOM, Shawn Parks