A couple hear what sounds like a struggle behind the door of a room in a luxurious mountain resort. Police break open the chained door to discover a bloody man unconscious in the main room. In the bathroom, they find the man’s lover dead, lying in a pile of money. The door was locked from the inside, the vents were undisturbed, and the windows lack latches. Yet the man insists he was attacked. So who was his attacker? And how did they escape? And why?
From the opening shots, The Invisible Guest is playing with you. Writer-director Oriol Paulo (probably best known stateside for writing the Guillermo del Toro-produced Julia’s Eyes) is working in the best tradition of mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, and he takes palpable glee in guiding you down tangled paths in your desperation for the truth.
There are actually two locked room mysteries at the heart of The Invisible Guest. Of course there’s the one where Adrian Doria (Mario Casas) was discovered a few feet from the body of his murdered lover Laura (Barbara Lennie), but the main action is set months later, in a hotel room where Adrian sits down with defense counsel Virginia Goodman (Ana Wagener). See, Adrian claims that he and Laura were drawn to that secluded spot by a blackmail threat, blackmail concerning a hit-and-run accident that left another driver dead and the illicit couple desperate to cover up their involvement. As Virginia presses Adrian to tell her the truth, Paulo’s script reveals more and more aspects of the story, revealing that the straight-forward path is actually laden with turns and pitfalls.
To reveal anything else about The Invisible Guest‘s plotting would be a sin against the Movie Gods (and I’m still on probation with those guys), so suffice to say that Paulo is very smart about how he builds bombs of truth throughout the story, and he is very, very smart in the manner in which those bombs are set off.
None of this would matter if the cast was not up to snuff, but everyone seems able and eager to try their hand at the elaborate game that Paulo has laid out. As multiple versions of the story are told, cast members have to play out different versions of their characters while also maintaining something of a coherent center (at the post-film Q&A, Paulo admitted that this got very tricky in certain scenes). Casas as Doria is at the heart of the film, and the way the audience’s understandings of, and reactions to, him shift over the course of the film is fascinating. Casas approaches the role without a trace of fear, willing to go as weak and as vile as needed for whichever version of Adrian we are seeing. The same is true of Jose Coronado as a bystander to the accident who is drawn into the mystery, and Wagener as the dogged Goodman. Both do strong, subtle work that is guaranteed to be even more rewarding on repeated viewings (which are all but guaranteed).
No one has a trickier road to trod than Lennie as Laura. Because Laura is dead before the opening credits roll, she exists entirely as a construct of the various versions of the story being told. Lennie makes each version of Laura feel real, whole, and palpable, and her commitment is a big part of what makes the film’s contortions and reversals truly work.
Technically, the film is a knockout across the board. Cinematographer Xavi Gimenez gives the film a lush, just-a-tad heightened color pallet, the perfect backdrop for the noir-infused narrative to play out against. And editor Jaume Marti holds the film together, weaving plot strands together in a way that excite without confounding. Even as the film is hitting you with lots of information, it never feels like a deluge. You ride the wave of revelation, jumping up and down in your seat with release and anticipation, rather than scratch your head over it.
And tying the whole thing together is a score by Fernando Velazquez (who crafted the haunting strings of Crimson Peak and more recently helped bring the heartstring-sledgehammer to A Monster Calls). It is not a subtle piece of music, but it serves perfectly to amp up the emotional reality of scenes that might otherwise have just been two people standing in a room talking to each other.
At that same audience Q&A, Paulo said that a big part of his making the film was the lack of good mysteries at the multiplex (both Quentin Tarantino and Shane Black have cited this same paucity as motivation behind their own recent efforts), and The Invisible Guest is a refresher course on how much of a wallop this subgenre can pack. As Paulo turned over his cards, the feeling that went through that Drafthouse audience can only be described as electric. We were all of us bound in the same upsurging current of revelation, gasping and laughing and clapping.
The Invisible Guest is due to hit theaters in Spain around Christmas, and with any luck it will reach the US shortly thereafter. I can’t wait to watch it again, and you would be wise to hunt it down whenever and wherever it might be playing near you.