7.1.18

A Film a Week - The Invisible Guest / Contratiempo

Back in the day, a story like The Usual Suspects seemed possible, even if it was not very plausible and that was a stellar example of movie magic crowning the almighty, all-powerful ghost-like Kaiser Söze as one of the strongest villains of all time. However, the film has aged pretty badly and has lost some of its value (based on novelty) after a number of clones. Having that in mind, I would not say the label “The Spanish Usual Suspects” attached to Oriol Paulo’s The Invisible Guest is exactly the most flattering one.

The good thing is that Paulo’s slick Spanish thriller is not a clone even though the structure of a mystery inside of an interrogation story is quite similar and the final revelation is a bit too much of a Kaiser Söze moment. The reason for that is the very central locked room-type murder mystery which has been constructed properly and widened intelligently to another murder having in mind the perks of contemporary lifestyle like cell phone communication.

A witness preparation expert attorney Virginia Goodman (Ana Wagener) comes to the high-rise apartment of a wealthy and influential businessman Adrián Doria (Mario Casas) accused of murder of his former lover Laura (Bárbara Lennie) in a secluded hotel. He maintains his innocence stating that there was someone else in the room, a man who knocked him out and murdered Laura, although there are no traces of such presence and no motive for that at all. The fact is, however, that they were both blackmailed and the scheme had something to do not just with their secret affair, but also with a fatal car accident they were involved in a couple of months before. There are two possible suspects for such a scheme: one is a passer-by who saw them faking a minor accident to cover up the death of a young man in another car, while the other one is a local man, as it turns to be the deceased man’s father (José Coronado), who picked Laura up some hours later and fixed their car.

One of those two men is the new key witness for prosecution and Adrián’s hotshot lawyer had no choice but to hire Virginia to train his client for the testimony according to the new information. But for that, she has to know the truth which seems unlikely with Adrián’s poorly constructed lies and half-truths. And the time is ticking away, of course.

Ana Wagener serves well as an Agatha Christie-style detective battling against Adrián’s arrogance played with gusto by Mario Casas, but the main reason everything works so well up to a point is Oriol Paulo’s creative decision to go with numerous possibilities from different angles rather than to reveal the truth. It makes sense: it is not the truth that will set her client free, a bullet-proof narrative is the thing, the whole truth is just a tool for the desired outcome. However, the whole thing gets tiresome after several small twists and revelations, and the heavy-hitting turns at the finale do not do any good. Still, Paulo (the writer of Julia’s Eyes and the writer-director of The Body) is someone who should be watched closely and who will have his word in the future of Spanish and European genre cinema.