E.L. King says Stefano Lodovichi's narrative is chaotic and violent while endearingly tender in other key moments.
[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS REFERENCES TO SELF HARM AND CHILDHOOD TRAUMA]
Italian science-fiction thriller The Guest Room (La Stanza) is seething with claustrophobic melancholy, suspense, and rage. Co-writer and director Stefano Lodovichi, with Francesco Agostini and Filippo Gili, lead audiences on a journey through a perilous aftermath of neglect. Tense and emotionally charged, the story intensely explores the trauma of abandonment beautifully with a chaotic and violent narrative that is endearingly tender in other key moments.
Giulio (Guido Caprino), a handsome and amiable stranger, longs for the familial love and affection he's been denied since childhood. He hopes to find it with Stella (Camilla Filippi), a woman on the verge of suicide, overcome with heartache and depression over losing her philandering husband, Sandro (Edoardo Pesce). Their intertwined lives change forever when Guilio’s home invasion disrupts the course of everything.
On a dreary and fateful morning, Stella stands on her balcony’s ledge, dramatically draped in her wedding dress, soaked in rainwater, mascara tears lining her face, ready to take her own life. Overcome with grief over the disillusion of her marriage, she readies herself to jump but is interrupted by a knock on her door. Finding Guilio on her doorstep, adamant he’s booked her guest room for the night, Stella concedes to letting him inside. The two share a meal, wine, and conversation about Guilio’s mother and his travels to Japan—a place Stella has always wanted to go. However, his charming demeanor drastically deviates once Sandro arrives at Stella’s behest. The once affable stranger and the situation quickly descend into a brutal and terrifying night at the kitchen table.
There is a psychological significance to the kitchen table. It’s the heart at the center of a family home—a symbol of love as parents and children gather together for a meal. The meal served doesn't matter, even if it’s sticky potatoes, a meal shared between Stella and Guilio before Sandro’s arrival. The only thing that matters is that the family is taking time to gather and talk to each other. Without taking the time to talk, relationships wither and die. Therefore, it’s only fitting that we spend time at the family table with Stella and Sandro tied to dining chairs as Guilio desperately tries to connect with Stella while simultaneously torturing Sandro to punish him for the way he’s disregarded and betrayed her. However, a deeper symbolism exists when the relationship that has withered and been irreparably damaged is revealed to the audience.
The gorgeous set designs evoke a modern gothic ambiance to set the film’s tone, aided by Giorgio Giampà’s unsettling score and a terrifying performance from Caprino. These outstanding elements anchor the film despite the mystery unfolding unevenly at times. Giulio's feelings of immense hatred and unrequited love are palpable. Caprino and Filippi convey wonderful chemistry, delicately playing off each other's every move.
The film benefits greatly from its strong cast and clever screenplay. Lodovichi is daring in his examination of the lingering trauma of neglect, reminding us that damaged familial bonds create painful heartache that echoes throughout our past, present, and future. The Guest Room is a visionary revenge horror with subtle hints that, to a keen eye, reveal its surprises without spoiling the experience.