Director: Ayappa K.M.

Cast: Avinash Tiwari, Davinder Madan

The Guest is a wicked little film: an evil-grin-and-wink sort of wicked, not the dark-and-twisted variety. A dancing-around-trees flowery 70s-style nature-song – the kind you’d imagine two polka-dotted heroines playing badminton to – presumably on a retro radio station, begins the film rather harmlessly, before a young man’s (Avinash Tiwari) car breaks down in the hills.

The same song begins (the solo “hah hah hah hah” lead-in now assumes a trolling, mischievous context) as the end credits roll – a moment after it becomes horrifyingly clear that the man may have made the worst decision of his life.

Something so tiny, such as the mere placement of this music, often defines a viewer’s experience, leaving us with the exact aftertaste the maker intends us to have. I had to smirk, despite its nightmarish connotations.

Though not very eye-catching at first, I like how this film is constructed. We’re shown a lot of nature, a lot of the mountains, streams and its sounds, as if lulling us into its lap for a bit, until the old cabin-in-the-woods moment. Of course, if I were in this chap’s place, I wouldn’t have gotten off the road; no matter how deserted, it’s still a better bet than stepping into the wild. And in India, especially in the not-so-remote states, a stretch is never empty for too long.

A young man (Avinash Tiwari) is happy-go-lucky and going about life normally until his car breaks down in the hills.

But, fair enough, this fellow may have anticipated some kind of civilization nearby for some absurd reason – the same reason most fictitious characters, against better (sane) judgment, insist on investigating a dark room when they hear an ominous noise. His cell phone battery dying is foreboding, too. When a gentle old lady (Davinder Madan; perfectly spaced-out) answers the door, it’s only natural to second-guess the genre of this film.

It’s all very routine and polite, with nothing outrageously suspicious (which is why you tend to look harder) – until one realizes that this film is figuratively the unassuming build-up of what would have been a gritty feature-length survival drama. We’ve seen it before; the protagonist is happy-go-lucky and going about life normally until – bam – an ordinary man is put in an extraordinary situation.

The Guest is a wicked little film: an evil-grin-and-wink sort of wicked, not the dark-and-twisted variety.

Aaron Ralston (James Franco) in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is a regular adventure junkie till he gets brutally wedged in a canyon. He’s having a ball up until the incident. More recently, even in Vikramaditya Motwane’s new film, Trapped (premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival), it’s all hunky-dory and coming-of-age till the man (Rajkummar Rao) gets abruptly stuck in a Mumbai high-rise flat (it’s frightening for how feasible this is).

The build-ups are always very modest. But it’s all the more haunting if a film – like this one – simply ends before the beginning of the end, leaving much of the suffering and gore to our weathered imaginations.

The Guest does this effectively, and somewhat eerily, thanks to its isolated environment, leaving us to contemplate on what may have become of the poor man. I also couldn’t help but wonder about what may have become of his car; it’d be even better (or wicked-worse) if some resourceful mechanic fixed it to unblock the road. And to think, if the lady ever recalls the face of this man, she – and everyone else – may just brush it off as a flimsy dream.

Moral of the story: Never trust old women, even if they mean well. The kinder they are, the crueler destiny’s smile.

Watch The Guest here – 


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