The Guest Room is a home invasion thriller with a difference, probing the nature of isolation and trauma as it raises the stakes.
Synopsis: The morning Stella decides to take her own life, a stranger knocks at her door claiming the guest room he booked for the night. Surprised but charmed by this man who seems to know her very well, Stella decides to let him in. But when Sandro, the man who broke Stella’s heart, joins them at home, this odd situation turns immediately into chaos.
“This time thing is a mess,” posits a character in The Guest Room, but thankfully the film doesn’t live up to that line, producing an intriguing take on the home invasion thriller.
From the outset of The Guest Room (La Stanza) introduces Stella (Camilla Filippi) as a Miss Havisham-style figure, wandering her home in a wedding gown, deeply upset and on the brink of ending her life. She is interrupted by a knock at the door and is soon confronted by pushy stranger Giulio (Guido Caprino) who insists that he has booked a stay at the house despite Stella having removed the listing from booking sites. He is so insistent and the weather is so bad that Stella relents and allows him to stay. But soon the stranger reveals himself to be out for far more than an overnight stay.
With so many pandemic projects in the works, it is easy to find yourself fatigued by the themes of isolation. Where The Guest Room succeeds then is in approaching this in a way that feels different, linking its study of isolation not to the pandemic, but to the depths of emotional trauma and the way it can spread through families, leaving a damaging legacy. Despite being made under pandemic conditions, the separation from it will ultimately serve this film well, giving it a sense of timelessness.
Confining the action to the house and mostly to the performances of Filippi, Caprino and later, Edoardo Pesce as Sandro, The Guest Room is somewhat minimalist, but dials up the drama steadily. The large house that provides the base for the film works well, providing a large kitchen area that allows all three to be in the same space at once, but also benefits from several rooms to dispatch characters to at certain points allowing the narrative to further unfold. The house’s design is excellent too – almost fairy-tale-like in its construction and multiple hallways and grand staircases. That much of the house feels untouched and unprepared lends pathos, pulling the viewer into the mindset of the characters.
As so much of the film is reliant on dialogue and tense situations in which uncomfortable revelations and confessions spill out, there is a reliance on melodramatic performances, which won’t be to everyone’s tastes. That the film evolves into its final form rather delicately, adding new details section by section rather than in the form of a veering twist gives it a sophistication alongside its more dramatic tendencies.
While not perfect thanks to a middle section that slows and becomes repetitive, this is undoubtedly a fresh way of tackling the themes we’ve all become far too accustomed to over the last year or so. A shorter run time, still allowing the mood to fester and having the confidence that its concept is well realised enough to not have to dwell on making sure the audience have understood.
Striking in its beauty but a little overlong for the story it needs to tell, The Guest Room is definitely one to look out for if you enjoy genre blending and high tension.
3 out of 5 stars
The Guest Room plays as part of Grimmfest 2021. See the Grimmfest page for more information.