The Invisible Guest (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★
“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.
Julia’s Eyes (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
During a neighborhood blackout, Sara (Belén Rueda) stood in the living room talking to someone but we couldn’t see who was there in the shadows. When lightning came, the corner that she seemed to be transfixed on revealed no person despite flashes of a polaroid camera directed toward her earlier on. As the camera focused on her face, we saw that she was blind. Attempting to escape her invisible tormentor, she ended up the basement. She climbed a stool, put a rope around her neck, and a second person knocked the stool from under her. Julia (also played by Rueda), Sara’s twin sister, felt a choking sensation while at her job in the observatory. She just knew something was wrong. Written by Guillem Morales and Oriol Paulo, “Los ojos de Julia” took inspiration from Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark” and made it much more sinister. It was suspenseful because from the moment Julia suspected foul play, she felt compelled to gather clues that would prove her sister was murdered. It didn’t help that she shared her sister’s medical condition: extreme stressed diminished her eye sight. Ironically, the more knowledge she attained, the less she saw clearly, thus the less reliable her testimony. The best scenes were of Julia’s interactions with people who knew her deceased sister. For instance, when she visited a home for the blind, they smelled her presence… and of a man’s. But she came alone. She aggressively looked behind her and there was, in fact, a man watching her every move. Similar scenes worked in two ways. First, it served as a foreshadowing of what was eventually going to happen to the lead character. It should come to no surprise that she was going to lose her sight completely. If she was to survive, she needed to learn how to depend on her other senses and instinct. Secondly, it worked for the chase sequence that came right after the realization that she was being followed. We saw most of the action through Julia’s eyes. The majority of her peripheral vision was already gone so being forced into her perspective was awkward and claustrophobic. There was an effortless horror in it. What if the killer decided to attack from the side? She had no chance. Much to the dismay of her husband, Isaac (Lluís Homar), it seemed as though there was nothing he could do to stop Julia’s obsession. In here, the romance wasn’t utilized as currency to simply buy minutes until the next scary moment. What they had was tender and believable. I felt as respected as an audience because we really got to experience their history and what they meant to one another without necessarily using words. Their relationship held weight and it was, in a way, the picture’s emotional core though we weren’t always aware of it. The villain was truly monstrous. A hotel janitor (Joan Dalmau) described his motivation so perfectly, I almost began to feel bad for the silent stalker. Although we saw glimpses of him early on in the film, it wasn’t until much later that we observed his face dominating every inch of the camera. When he screamed at Julia without restraint, watching him through her eyes, it felt like such an invasion of my personal space, I wanted to push his face away for being so close. “Julia’s Eyes,” directed by Guillem Morales, skillfully placed us into Julia’s nightmarish experience without it being contrived. Other movies of its kind pale in comparison even under bright lights.