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WILD WILD GUEST
The Guest Room (15)
Starring: Guido Caprino, Camilla Filippi, Edoardo Pesce
Review: RJ Bland
It's not a controversial claim to make that Italian horror cinema experienced its heyday back in the 1970s. Giallo was in full swing, as was surrealist schlock, and some of the most iconic names of the genre - Argento, Bava, Fulci, Soavia and Lenzi - were at their most prolific, treating us to films such as Suspiria, Deep Red, Tenebrae and Black Sunday. By the early 90s this glut had ended though and Italian horror experienced a steep drop off in the decade or two that followed. But there are signs that slowly and surely, there's a bit of a resurgence happening. A Classic Horror Story (2021) and Born Dead (2021), whilst not groundbreaking, indicate that the genre is still alive and kicking, whilst Dario Argento's Dark Glasses (2022) show that there is still room for the old masters to operate alongside a potential new wave of film-making talent. Stefano Lodovichi's psychological horror-thriller The Guest Room is the latest reminder that Italy is gradually re-discovering its place on the horror map.
The film opens with a young woman, Stella (Camilla Filippi), dressed in her wedding gown standing on the window ledge of an upstairs bedroom. Her decision whether to jump or not is disrupted when there's a knock at the front door. When she opens it she finds a mysterious (and handsome) stranger (Guido Caprino) who tells her that he has a room booked at her sprawling house. Stella's (absent) husband occasionally lets out one of the rooms upstairs we discover, although Stella tells the visitor that he cannot stay. A mixture of bad weather and the strangers affability result in a quick change of heart however and Stella is soon showing Giulio, the stranger, to the guest bedroom. But Giulio seems to know some things about the house and Stella and her family that infer he's not a total stranger. And when Stella's husband (Edoardo Pesce) turns up, things start to get a bit intense...and weird.
Director Stefano Lodovichi hasn't directed a feature film since 2015, when he helmed mystery-thriller Deep in the Wood. Although it had more folky undertones there are some similarities and The Guest Room continues Lodivichi's propensity for familial drama, pensive pacing and at atmosphere of quiet unease.
There's a sense of the personal and intimate, where the characters are unequivocally front and centre. It's an approach that couldn't be more different from the Italian masters of yesteryear, many of whom used their cast merely as talking props. But The Guest Room feels almost theatrical. It's basically a three-hander and all of the action and intrigue takes place within one (admittedly large) house. If you learned that it had been based on a stage play, you wouldn't be surprised in the least (it's not, FYI). Features such as this depend heavily on the performances of the central players and fortunately all three are more than up to the task here. Filippi's portrayal of a deeply troubled woman on the brink is as complex as you'd hope and Caprino, as the charming but enigmatic stranger, is mesmerising at times. Without any disrespect to Edoardo Pesce (who is solid), the strongest part of the film is probably the first half an hour, where the chemistry between Stella and her mystery guest develops some real potency.
The character conflict plays out against a fittingly eerie backdrop too. The house is beautiful but there's almost a haunted quality to it. It's as if the house hasn't moved on from a past trauma. The guest room is a dusty mess, there is little food in the house and even though there is apparently a child in the house (we'll leave that little plot thread alone for now!), there's a disquieting sense of silence. The sombre cinematography by Timoty Aliprandi matches the mood of our forlorn lead too. A disarming sense of malaise is punctured halfway through however and as secrets are revealed and plot points dropped, it hurtles full tilt towards a climax that is anything but soporific. Although we are given a clear resolution by the end, there's still a little bit of headscratching to be done after the credits roll. Intentional ambiguity or just a little too confusing? We'll let you be the judge of that. However, even if it's the latter, it still doesn't inflict any mortal wounds to what is an otherwise impressive return to the director's chair for Lodovichi.
The Guest Room is an atmospheric slow-burn thriller that's elevated by some strong central performances and astute direction. The last act may feel a bit muddled at times but there's more than enough to chew on afterwards.
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