Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Uncertain Guest (El Habitante Incierto, 2004): Are You In The (Spanish) House Alone?

A while back, I saw a great Spanish thriller called Julia's Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia, 2010), directed by Guillem Morales. I'm a big fan of foreign films - and of discovering a director's previous works after enjoying a movie they've just done.  So it was only natural that I would eventually come to find The Uncertain Guest (a.k.a. The Uninvited Guest). 
I bought the film (Amazon) sight unseen, which I have only done a handful of times.  But I had read decent reviews (there and elsewhere) and took a chance.  Glad I did, as it turned out to be a really decent, interesting little film. 

Poor Felix
(Andoni Gracia, looking more than a little like a more handsome Dudley Moore). Although a successful architect, his longtime girlfriend has just left him alone with a huge house and a broken heart.  He strives to make the most of it, but he feels lonely and it's all he can do not to beg Vera (Mónica López) to come back to him.  As she takes the rest of her things and goes, Felix settles into his sparsely decorated yet spiffy abode and does the usual.  Feels bad for himself and wonders how he will ever live without her. When the doorbell rings, he rushes to answer it, thinking it's Vera coming back to him.  Alas, it's a stranger, asking to use his phone.  The man indicates that the pay phone nearby isn't working, and though most people wouldn't, Felix allows the stranger inside to use his telephone.  [I do realize this is a movie, and people in movies always do stupid things or there would be no plot to speak of, but personally, I've seen waaaay too many horror movies to even remotely think of letting a stranger use my phone. But.......]

Felix shows the stranger to his phone and is rather taken aback when the man asks for privacy.  Felix reluctantly leaves the room and waits patiently. When it seems to be taking a rather long time, Felix enters the kitchen only to discover the man is gone.  Did he exit through the door?  Why didn't Felix see him?  Why didn't the stranger say thank you?  Wait....did he leave at all?

Paranoia sets in. Felix begins to hear things.  Noises that may or may not be the house settling or a cat in the alleyway.  Quiet knocks and bumps in the night have Felix so on edge that he calls in the police (who of course cannot find a damn thing) and finally ends up sleeping curled up in the fetal position in his car in the garage, completely convinced that the stranger has never left and is squatting in his mansion...somewhere.

He ends up relaying these suspicions to Vera, who at first thinks he's crazy and then seems to feel some sort of pity that ends up with the two of them having ex-sex.  As per the norm, this kind of quick bedtime romp never works out, and although Vera does feel some degree of love for Felix, they argue about whether or not someone is actually in the house and the fight doesn't end well.  Felix is alone again, and soon even more certain someone is living in the house with him. 

Thinking that this is where the plot is going is your first mistake.  This movie drifts effectively off into two or maybe even three directions, which will keep you guessing.  One night, when Felix thinks he has caught up to the stranger, he shoots him and locks him in a room.  Searching out the man's identity, he ends up at house nearby inhabited by a woman in a wheelchair that he thinks may be the stranger's wife.  Claudia is engaged in conversation with another man - her brother-in-law - about her hubby having gone missing.

And this is where the film does a total 180.  Felix becomes strangely enamored with Claudia and can't help himself from actually entering her house and living there! For all intents and purposes, he is a squatter with a voyeuristic fascination with the resident female.  There are unexpected comedic moments interspersed with pure creepiness as Felix follows Claudia around her home - it's quite easy for him to move around undetected as she is wheeling everywhere and he is always one step ahead of her. 

The role reversal here is absolutely brilliant.  I loved wondering if Felix was completely off his rocker or just a little bit sad.  I still wondered throughout the film - was there actually anyone ever in Felix's house or is he really just that crazy?  When we meet Felix he is a shattered man, brokenhearted and bereft of all happiness.  He becomes increasingly paranoid, which is rather fun to watch - but then by the end you really wonder how this could possibly end well.  Because let's not forget...... there is a wounded (or dead?) man in one of the upstairs bedrooms of his own house. 

El Habitante Incierto is a great under-the-radar thriller that offers more than your average slash and trash horror flick. It has laudable performances by the lead actors and it's easy to become invested in Felix's life and problems.  I've heard it compared to Hitchcock, and while I won't be that generous, it was full of beautiful cinematography and clever suspense.  Naturally, being a Spanish film it is subtitled - but don't let that deter you or you'll miss some excellent cinematic journeys from around the world.  And this one is a worthy trip.

No comments: