Spanish director Guillem Morales' first feature length film, El Habitante Incierto, or, The Uninvited Guest, is an excellent, Hitchcock inspired work of white knuckled suspense. While there are a couple of head scratching moments that defy logic, this is an otherwise expertly crafted thriller with some excellent twists and turns and a truly fantastic performance from the male lead.
Without spoiling too much of the fun, the story begins when a man named Felix (Andoni Gracia) and his wife Vera (Monica Lopez) have recently finished having a bunch of work done on their house. There are boxes all over the place and things are in a bit of disarray and it seems that, judging by Vera's behavior, all of this work has put some rather serious strain on their marriage. As such, she's leaving her husband and when we meet her she's more or less on the way out.
With Vera out of the house and the whole place to himself, Felix soon receives a visit from a strange man who shows up wanting to use the phone. Felix agrees to his request but shortly after letting the stranger into his home he finds that he's completely vanished leaving him wondering if he's left the house of if he is in fact hiding somewhere inside. Not really sure what's going on, Felix puts a few things together and starts to suspect that his neighbor, Martin (Augsti Villagronga), might be behind all of this. He snoops around a bit and starts spying on Martin's wife, Claudia (also played by Monica Lopez!) and soon one strange twist after another unfolds until it all ends in a somewhat predictable but very well executed ending.
Movie buffs who have seen a lot of thrillers over the years might see the ending to this one coming by about half way through the film, but Morales at that point does a bit of a switch in terms of the tone of the film and how it moves along. The first half is very tense, then we're cleverly distracted by some humor and a few interesting subplots, all of which lead up to a bizarre but effective finale. Even if you know where it's going before you get there, the pacing and the amazing suspense that builds so well throughout this film ensure that it's still a really fun ride and that getting there is a completely enjoyable experience.
In addition to the pacing of the film, Morales has also done an excellent job with the casting. Andoni Gracia is absolutely great in the lead role, and when things start to hit the fan he proves to be not only a sympathetic actor but a very believable one as well. Not once are we left doubting the sincerity of his performance and his on-screen chemistry with co-star Monica Lopez is also very realistic and well acted.
The clever script does a nice job of tying everything up by the time it's all over and done with, leaving the viewer satisfied with the resolution and somewhat relieved at the same time. Things get very, very tense as this rather simple story plays out and while it might sound like a rehash of When A Stranger Calls with a few obvious nods to Hitchcock thrown in along the way, Morales' film stands out well enough on its own that it never feels like a copycat or a rip-off even if it wears its influences plainly on its sleeve.
HBO gives The Uninvited Guest a strong and colorful 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that does justice to the sharp cinematography and slick compositions used throughout the film. There's a little bit of fine grain in a few scenes and once in a while you might notice a speck or two on the print used but other than that this picture looks fine. Mpeg compression artifacts are a non-issue while edge enhancement and line shimmering is kept to a minimum. There's plenty of detail in both the foreground and the background of the picture while skin tones remain lifelike and natural looking throughout.
While a surround sound mix would have probably made some of the suspense scenes in the film even tenser than they already are it's hard to knock the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track that's on this DVD. Presented in its original Spanish language with optional, typo-free subtitles available in English only, there's some very distinct channel separation in here that adds to the atmosphere and brings the movie to life quite effectively. Dialogue is clean and clear while the soundtrack is mixed in very nicely with the carefully placed sound effects and ambient noise. This is a fairly delicate mix in that there are a lot of nice little touches put into it in spots, so turning it up a bit is recommended so that you can really catch on to how good certain scenes sound on this release.
The only disappointing part of this release is the fact that it contains absolutely nothing in terms of supplements aside from a menu screen and chapter selection options – not even a trailer.
This is one of those great movies that seems to have fallen through the cracks, but don't lack the lack of hype or publicity put you off seeing it if you're at all interested in horror movies or thrillers. The Uninvited Guest is a smart, stylish scary film that deserves to find a wider audience. Despite the fact that this DVD is barebones, this release comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.