Dear Guest has a premise that I am shocked has been done before. To be more accurate, I should have said that I am shocked its premise has not been done in this way before. Now, vacationing houseguests who endure hell is nothing new. Usually, this takes the form of home invasion thrillers (The Strangers) or kidnappings followed by torture porn (Hostel). But, writer-director Megan Freels Johnston cleverly merges those two genres for one whole.
Maria (Ashley Bell) and Jules (Noureen DeWulf) rented a place through an AirBnB style app. Upon arrival, the host is already gone but left the key from them to get into the house. After a brief time talking and exploring, Maria notices that Jules has stopped answering her. She goes throughout the entire house, yet cannot find her friend.
Maria does find a letter addressed, “Dear Guest.” She opens it and discovers that the host has devised a little game for her. Jules is trapped somewhere in the house, and Maria must follow all the clues to free her friend. Seeing as how all the doors are locked from the outside, escape is not possible, so Maria cannot go get help. Can she save her friend? Can both of them escape alive?
“Jules is trapped somewhere in the house, and Maria must follow all the clues to free her friend.”
While there are not any surprises to be found in Johnston’s short film, it still works. One of the reasons for that is because she eschews both the traditional trappings of torture porn and home invasion thrillers. By avoiding people stalking the inhabitants outside and not creating an inexplicable network of folks killing others for fun, Dear Guest feels fresh and engaging. The characters may not be particularly well fleshed out, but the audience learns just enough about them to care whether they live or die.
One of the reasons the audience so quickly invests is the acting. Ashley Bell is quite good as the hero. Her determination and desperation are played equally well, and she never overacts, thus grounding the somewhat implausible story. Noureen DeWulf is also pretty, and the two share a nice, easygoing chemistry.
But there are a few problems. For one, I don’t understand what the last shot is supposed to represent. I won’t spoil it, but it is unclear what the focus of the shot is meant to be, so what it is conveying is muddled. Plus, there are a few logical gaps, such as how did neither one of the friends hear that there was someone else tiptoeing about the house? The house is nice but not all that big, so without knowing a bit more about the killer’s movements (again, doors are locked outside. So, air ducts maybe?) it presents a pretty big story conundrum that some people might not be able to look past.
Dear Guest is 11-minutes long, and despite a few issues, the film works. The directing is good, the acting is great, and the story mostly avoids the pitfalls and traps of its subgenre inspirations. If you don’t mind a plothole or two and like these kinds of horror films, you’ll have a good time with the movie.
"…shocked its premise has not been done in this way before."