★★★★ / ★★★★
“The Invisible Guest” is the type of mystery-thriller that invites you, teases you, to catch up to it. I found myself focusing on it so hard because I wished to be one step ahead that eventually I started feel as though my brain was undergoing mental gymnastics. By the end of it, I felt exhilarated from being enchanted by its spell. I imagine that those who are well-versed in twisty thrillers would find this work to be most entertaining. Even those who aren’t are likely to have a ball, too. It is one of those movies in which details matter most and so every second must count. No bathroom breaks here.
The near-ingenious thriller is written and directed by Oriol Paulo, who appears to love words and images equally. Characters are allowed to speak intelligently and for their motivations to make sense. Most of the story is told in flashback. In many films, even in thrillers that are supposed to be exciting, flashbacks tend to command a languid tone like they are mere appendages, side-notes to be considered but never really examined under a microscope. It is the complete opposite here. It is most appropriate that the backward look in time must possess a great sense of urgency, paired by Jaume Martí’s precise editing, because the plot revolves around a man accused of murder who is being prepped by a defense attorney hours before facing a judge.
However, the story is far from straightforward. There is a sea of lies, a wealth of interpretations, and possible suggestions. We even watch the events unfold from other characters’ point of view. Images, however brief, are coupled with every potential scenario. Just as the lawyer, Virginia Goodman (Ana Wagener) must extract the truth from her client, Adrián (Mario Casas), a young successful businessman, in order to create an impenetrable defense, we, too, must wade through the details. It is correct to establish that both characters are intelligent early on and so in order to outsmart them, and the picture, we are challenged to put on our best thinking hat.
Here is the situation: Adrián wakes up in a hotel room with his lover’s corpse (Bárbara Lennie). He claims that there was an attacker that bashed his head onto a mirror which knocked him unconscious for a few minutes. But when the authorities arrived at the scene, the room is locked from the inside. And because it is winter, the hotel staff were instructed to lock all windows from the inside and remove all the handles. There is no way in or out. Adrián’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon. It appears to be an open-and-shut case. But it isn’t because the entirety of the truth started three months ago.
“Contratiempo” builds momentum like one of those cartoon snowballs that get bigger and bigger as it rolls downhill until it is impressive enough to knock just about everything out of the way. At the end of it, I found myself wishing that more American thrillers functioned on such a high caliber. While there are details I caught that would—or should—push the police to get to the truth faster, it doesn’t matter because the film’s pace is so forceful in the forward direction that the experience is like having to put together hundreds of puzzle pieces in fifteen minutes—stressful, ridiculous, and a good time.