Dear Guest Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Look At Me Films
Written and directed by Megan Freels Johnston
2020, 11 minutes and 10 seconds, Not Rated
Released on October 30th, 2020
Noureen DeWulf as Jules
Ashley Bell as Maria
Megan Freels Johnston is the granddaughter of the legendary writer, Elmore Leonard (Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Justified, Jackie Brown). She’s not just a legacy making her name off the family connection, however, even if it is obvious that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. You can see it in her sense of style and timing, and you can feel it in her writing. I never forgot that name and waited patiently to hear it again.
It goes without saying that I jumped on this assignment.
Dear Guest is the story of Jules (Noureen DeWulf; Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) and Maria (Ashley Bell; The Last Exorcism), a couple who rent a vacation home to get away from the grind of work and try to reconnect. Despite not knowing who the owners are (only the name Host 207), it seems they’ve found a real deal. The place is more than they could’ve hoped for, spacious and well-appointed. They’re amazed at their good fortune. Maria opens a bottle of wine while Jules goes to check out the rest of the house. When she tries to go back to the car, she finds the front door inexplicably locked. She calls out for Jules, but Jules isn’t answering. In fact, she’s nowhere to be found. Maria is panicking…then she finds the handwritten card with the words “Dear Guest” on the outside. A game is being played by the owners, and the lovely couple are the unwilling participants. What happens next opens a world of possibilities, each one more horrific than the last. They can’t escape their new digs, and now their relationship problems are the least of their concerns.
While it wasn’t a perfect film, The Ice Cream Truck proved that Megan Freels Johnston knows how to inject serious style into her films. That wasn’t a fluke – Dear Guest utilizes Hitchcockian style musical cues and unblinking brightness to build the tension and counterpoint the ugly reality that settles over Jules and Maria in old-school fashion. The cinematography, however, is anything but old-school; it’s crisp, striking, and damn good-looking. There is no amateur hour here, folks.
Dear Guest utilizes the natural and inescapable creepiness of staying in someone else’s place to lay a pall of background tension that settles on you before anything remotely worrisome even happens. It doesn’t hurt that the home really is quite lovely. It gives you a place to focus as the vagueness of the horror becomes more concrete and the game begins.
At eleven minutes and ten seconds, it’s a very contained and claustrophobic short film that begs for the feature treatment (or, at the very least, another chapter to the story). That vagueness I mentioned is the most horrific aspect of the whole affair; there are so many ways that you could take that story from the sublime and stylistic to the ugly and grotesque. It’s ripe with possibilities. You already have a good feel for Jules and Maria in that short time, so it’s safe to say that you’d legitimately care about them in a longer film.
And that’s a good thing. Without caring (at least a little) for your characters, you fall into body count territory, and Dear Guest isn’t a body count type of affair. It’s a stylish variation on the vibe of movies like The Strangers, except in this case the house and everything in it essentially create another assailant to ensure that Jules and Maria’s strained relationship will be the least of their problems.
So, yeah…if masterful use of musical cues, a deceptively idyllic locale, unknown menace, and a “host” with a deeply disturbed sense of fun isn’t enough to wet your whistle, just remember who you’re dealing with here. Megan Freels Johnston is a treasure that the world of horror hasn’t fully discovered yet, and Dear Guest is another indicator that she’s not too far from blowing like an undiscovered box of fireworks left too close to the furnace in the basement.
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