31 Days to Scare ~ The Uninvited Guest (El habitante incierto)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: What if you let a stranger into your house to use your phone, but while you’ve been patiently waiting in the kitchen, he just disappears…or does he?

Stars: Andoni Gracia, Mónica López, Francesc Garrido

Director: Guillem Morales

Rated: R

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  In thinking about possible blog entries for my 31 Days to Scream, I quickly noted that some of the most elegant chillers I’ve seen have come from Spain.  From The Orphanage to The Devil’s Backbone to Pan’s Labyrinth, there has been something about Spanish cinema that has helped to elevate the thriller to a new level that the US can’t quite compete with.  Less enamored of monsters and slashers, the “horror” movies out of Spain have been more interested in finding the terror in situations that could happen to anyone, anywhere.

Getting lost in the web of IMDB, this mystery came highly recommended based on some of my past selections so I figured I’d give it a try.  I’d never heard of it before and was able to find a copy at Filmzilla (check it out if you can…it’s one of the last true blue real life old-school movie rental businesses)…so there was really no excuse to pass it up. 

An effective thriller, The Uninvited Guest works its way into your nerves by balancing its thriller elements with a larger theme of separation and loneliness.  It’s a sparse film that uses the empty spaces of the central house to signify what’s missing the life of our primary character. 

Having just broken up with his live-in girlfriend, Felix (Gracia) is adjusting to living alone in the large house he designed for them.  Clearly unhappy but not sure how to express it he lashes out at neighbors and his estranged girlfriend (López) and its only getting worse.  By the time a man knocks on his door late at night and wants to use the phone, you expect him to shoo him away in the Scrooge like manner he’s displayed up until that point.  Letting him in seems to be as big of a surprise to him as it is to us – does he let him for the company, someone to talk to? 

If you’ve read the description you’ll see that the man using the phone promptly disappears when left alone to make his call.  But did he leave or is he merely hiding?  It’s through several unique developments that the title of the movie reveals its double, triple, quadruple meaning and the audience is taken along on a ride through a damaged psyche.

Owing much to Hitchcock’s style, director Morales (who also helmed the superior thriller Julia’s Eyes that I’m reviewing before the month is out) mines a lot of tension out of innocuous circumstances that begin to plague our lead.  What are the mysterious noises he hears that indicate he’s not alone in the house?  Who has been sleeping in his bed?  Is his former lover somehow involved?  All answers arrive as nice curveballs that seem rather conventional in hindsight but work in the moment for the movie at hand.

Typical of Spanish cinema, there isn’t much in the way of gore but the film still possesses a few genuinely frightening sequences that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.  The movie also switches into a nice gear about halfway through into a semi domestic comedy.  Don’t let that distract you from the ominous overarching threat that’s happening.

If you can’t tell, I’m purposely trying to be vague about what’s going on in the film because the summary above only tells ¼ of the plot.  This one has many layers to it and to its credit it never gets lost in itself while it juggles several complex storylines.  To give away too much of the film would be a disservice to you and would most likely spoil some key moments that you need to get to on your own.

Gracia is a solid leading man that displays the proper amount of charm and wide-eyed terror that the role requires.  He’s paired nicely with López who winds up doing double duty for part of the film in a role that would make Hitchcock drool.  Aside from these two primary leads, the rest of the cast is fairly unimportant as it’s really more of a two person movie with not a lot of need for supporting players.

Aside from a few unnecessarily graphic sex scenes, The Uninvited Guest has most of its intentions in the right place.  It may not outright scare you like many of the US ‘gotcha’ films that we churn out by the sackful, but it’s a goosebump inducing entry from Spain that doesn’t cheat the audience out of a rational resolution however challenging it may be.