The Invisible Guest  – An Engaging Thriller Undone by Empty, Ludicrous Twists
Spanish writer/director Oriol Paulo has a penchant for crafting twisted, atmospheric mystery/thrillers which ends up with unpredictable denouement. His riveting feature-film debut El cuerpo aka The Body (2012) revolves around the mystery of a missing corpse – the body of an enchanting businesswoman Maayka Villaverde. Like the morgue located deep in the woods in The Body, Oriol Paulo’s new thriller The Invisible Guest (Contratiempo, 2016) unfurls inside the room of a plush hotel. Drawing inspiration from the works of literary masters like Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie, and from top class cinematic mysteries like The Usual Suspects, The Invisible Guest serves up delicious concoction of unexpected twists. The major invisible factor in Oriol Paulo’s writing is psychological depth and strong emotional attachment. But mystery lovers who just expect a twist every 30 minutes (however ridiculous it might be) would be thoroughly entertained by the narrative’s frenzied race against time.
The Invisible Guest’s basic plot mixes up the narrative ingredients of The Usual Suspects (1995) and Spanish Noir Death of a Cyclist (1955). Rich, self-centered businessman Adrian Doria (Mario Casas) stands accused of murdering his lover and famous fashion photographer Laura Vidal (Barbara Lennie). Adrian is arrested after police find him in a locked hotel room with Laura’s dead body. He claims that he’s innocent of the crime, but witnesses in the hotel report hearing screams. Forensics conveys that nobody else entered the room and the windows were too jammed for an alleged killer to flee. But Adrian insists he and Laura were victims of a blackmailer (blackmailed for their extra-marital affair). The prosecution side admits that a damning last minute evidence has surfaced up which may ensure Adrian’s conviction. So Adrian is holed up in a room, waiting for witness preparation expert Virginia Goodman (Ana Wegener) to make his defense as robust as possible.
Silver-gray haired Goodman has recently retired yet she wants to take up this interesting case and go off with a blaze of professional glory. When Goodman scrutinizes Adrian to tell the whole truth behind the case, he tells a simplified version where he seems to be innocent guy caught in the web of femme fatale Laura. The central conflict that sets up the wheels of mystery has resemblance to the plot of JA Bardem’s Death of a Cyclist. In that old film, lovers pursuing an extra-marital affair run over a poor cyclist. On the woman’s insistence, the couple leaves the cyclist to die, fearing that their affair might be discovered. Although nobody seems to have witnessed the accident, the lovers are soon threatened by a suave blackmailer. In that same way, Adrian and Laura after their night time rendezvous at a cottage deep in the woods travel back to their home in the morning. They both vow this is the last time. A deer runs past the narrow back-roads, causing a collision with another car. The young man in the other car is killed instantly.
Adrian wants to report the accident to the place but a panicked Laura wants to bury the body and move on. But couple of passer-by complicates the matter. Adrian takes the young man’s car to do the necessary and Laura waits for him to return. A local middle-aged man Tomas Garrido (Jose Coronado) sees Laura standing by the road and lends a helping hand to repair her car. He tows the car back to his home and introduces Laura to his compassionate wife. Laura discovers an inescapable truth in the middle-aged couple’s house. Moreover, Adrian’s sugar-coated version of events surrounding the accident doesn’t seem to be the perfect truth. The irritated lawyer Goodman probes for more details. She dissects the genuine and embellished details in Adrian’s story. Furthermore, she doesn’t believe Adrian’s portrayal of himself as a saint in the story.
Oriol Paulo keeps things interesting, exploring different perspectives within the seemingly simple scenario. Although the whole movie revolves only around four characters, the performances are strong enough to keep our attention on the central mystery. While Lennie, Wagener and Coronado offer impeccable performances, Mario Casas’ acting is comparatively meek. He doesn’t do a great job in presenting Adrian’s fiendish nature or conflicted emotions. Both The Body and The Invisible Guest, and many other modern mysteries (especially the Korean ones) that focus on delivering last-minute twists could be criticized for totally rejecting plausibility and psychological factors. While such elaborate twists promises to keep us on the edge-of-the-seat, on hindsight these endlessly convoluted climaxes fall apart making no apparent sense. Writer/director Oriol Paulo employs too much of those twists that he eventually robs us of any emotional connection. The camerawork and other technical aspects are certainly topnotch aspects of the movie. The Invisible Guest, although enjoys an high rating of 8 at IMDb, comes nowhere closer to great mystery thrillers like Secret in Their Eyes, Memories of Murder, Se7en, etc. It’s definitely an entertaining yarn that keeps us occupied for 100 minutes, but it’s neither mind-boggling nor emotionally complex.