English Title: The Invisible Guest
Original Title: Contratiempo
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Director/Writer: Oriol Paulo
Music: Fernando Velázquez
Cinematography: Xavi Giménez
The second feature film of Spanish writer/director Oriol Paulo, THE INVISIBLE GUEST is an entrancing whodunit opening with a straightforward frame story where a young and successful businessman Adrián Doria (Casas), embroiled in the mysterious murder of his mistress Laura Vidal (Lennie), meets Virginia Goodman (Wagener), a silver-haired defendant lawyer, who arrives earlier than their appointed time in his penthouse apartment to discuss the case owing to the impending surface of a new witness.
Hard-nosed and cut-to-the-chase, Virginia browbeats an evasive Adrián to lay bare the truth to her so that she can bail him out, this is her last case before retirement and she will not allow it to taint her impeccable winning streak (never lose one single case before). So here goes Adrián’s story: it all starts three months earlier, there is a road accident during Adrián and Laura’s covert assignation, a young man Daniel (Gastesi) is killed (don’t text when you are behind the wheel and strap that damn safety belt!), although technically it is not their fault, but for fear that calling police would expose their affair, they decide to cover it up. Adrián goes alone to dispose of Daniel’s body and vehicle, whilst Laura is in Adrián’s stalled car, and later meets Tomás (Coronado), an automobile engineer lives nearby (sheer luck!!), who is more than willing to help her out. But soon Laura discovers a shivering truth that shatters her to the core when she arrives at Tomás’ and meets the latter’s cancer-ridden-but-hearty wife Elvira, guess who is their son?
Both Adrián and Laura agree to sever their ties completely in the aftermath, but a blackmail brings them together in a remote hotel (later the plot reveals that Elvira works there), where Adrián claims to be knocked out by an unknown attacker and when he wakes up minutes later, Laura is dead, yet the killer just vanishes from the thin air because there is no trace of break-in-or-out in a room locked from inside. Under Virginia’s lawyer-smart suggestion and postulation, the narrative pans out like a RASHOMON-esque jigsaw, details are being reshuffled and reconstructed to tally with various possibilities, to make Adrián look innocent against all odds, meanwhile, it is also a mind-game between Virginia and Adrián, since the former has to milk the truth out of the latter by earning his trust, yet, can he trust her 100%? At one point, Virginia almost loses her professional dispassion when Adrián reveals another twist which would change the essence of the crime forever (whenever a deer pops up, it heralds a test of his morality), is she too much invested in the case, or is there a hidden agenda behind? Or, a more tantalizing question, who is she?
First of all (spoils alert!), Ana Wagener is masterfully Janus-faced in her dichotomous roles, even genre-savvy viewers are dangled to the possibility that the two characters might be played by the same actor, their sheer disparities between appearance, utterance and temperament can often successfully disabuse that idea before it being nudged again when the plot thickens, which leaves the final make-up removing revelation more inclined to a compelling justice-is-served stimulation than a complete shock. Mario Casas, dutifully downplays Adrián’s boundless selfishness and understated wiles, often brings about an innocent air of apathy when he can casually shift the responsibility to the one who is pushing up daisies, his golden-boy look effectively leaves the first impression of ingenuousness, a camouflage of his rotten core underneath. Bárbara Lennie, also competently jumps between two different modes of personalities (scheming/perturbed) apropos of the raconteurs’ motives.
Substantially, THE INVISIBLE GUEST has some glaring plot holes (e.g. what about the blood dripping from the car in the accident scene, that must be traceable even if Adrián and Laura have tried to cleanse it, which the plot fails to mention, how come the police never find that out?), and sometimes, the tug-of-war verbal fencing loses its momentum due to the repetition and over-simplification of the revelations and their collateral damages, but, at any rate it is a commendable thriller buttressed by a perspicacious morality caution tale hitting the right mark, a stunner of storytelling with editing job par excellence (from Jaume Martí), and a capable cast too.
Referential points: RASHOMON (1950) 8.8/10; Juan Antonio Bardem’s DEATH OF A CYCLIST (1955) 6.4/10; Damián Szifrón’s WILD TALES (2014), 8.3/10; Juan José Campanella’s THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2009), 8.5/10.