PHANTOMS OF THE CRIMEA: REVIEW OF THE FILM `GUESTS`. – Generation P: Edward Crabtree’s blog.

A routine paranormal drama tastefully delivered with pleasing locations and sets.

Like many  less supported Russian cinema releases GUESTS was alloted a desultory run at the cinemas. I have only just caught up with it now in DVD form (which had to be ordered at that). 2019 – the year that GUESTS was put on the market already  feels like a distant era. Then you could travel where you liked and mixing in groups was unproblematic (both things form the backbone of this film).

Part of a lineage.

GUESTS , a 16+ certificate 88 minute long film by Emotion Films, represents a formulaic ghost chiller of the young-people-in-an-abandoned -old-house type. The promotional poster boasts that the picture is from the same producers that brought us the chillers Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite and The Route is Built,  both from 2016 .Indeed the names Georgy Malkov,Vladimir Polyskov and Danil Makhort all appear, among others, in the roll call of the producers of all these films.

Evgeny Abusov is a man you would not have predicted would have been behind
the camera. Little would you know from this film that this director is better
known for his comedies.

The leading role is taken by Angelina Stretchina, whose persona here is quite apart from the spunky dreadlocked tough girl she played in Queen of Spades2:Through the Looking Glass (released in the same year). The Dzhezkagan born 44 year old  prolific actor Yuri Chursin brings class to the proceeding as the would -be romantic interest.

The screenplay was by Sergey Ageev who also worked on First Time (2017)
a biopic concerning Alexei Leonev, the first man to space walk.

A special shout out should go to Alexandra Fatina, the photographer. She has provided the visual element to other ghost stories such as Envelope (2017) and here enriches this story with the special flavour of its location. Indeed the Black Sea coast location shots do much to impart a special character to what, on paper, seems a run-of-the-mill supernatural yarn.


Katya (Stretchina), who seems a rather timid, even frosty young  woman,  is working as a waitress in  a cafe on the Crimean coast as the summer draws to an end. Her colleague introduces her to a new crowd. These are a gang of young hedonists whose idea of a good time is to find a property where they can lay on a private techno-rave, with one of their number being a professional DJ. Furthermore one of the men in the group takes an immediate interest in Katya.

The old dark house.

Rather against her own better judgement Katya directs their attention to an unoccupied old mansion on the coast that she knows of. (From a costume drama style prologue we know this to have been the lair of a local occultist back at the turn of the century). Soon the crew are partying in the property that they have squatted in, and trying not to think too much about the old textbooks about demonology that they have found about the place.

It is then that the long absent current owner bursts in on the scene. Andrei  (Churshin) is  a desperate man and he seems deranged enough for the men in the group to overtpower him and imprison him in the cellar. Then we learn that Katya had had an unconsummated tryst with this strange man when she had worked as a home-help at the mansion earlier. She begs them to release Andrei. Upon returning to the cellar, however they find that he has vanished….

Then the spirits of the house begin to make themselves known. A black ooze
begins to disgorge from the walls. A phantom woman and satanic boy- child are
seen. They have extendable talons and a tendency to hiss like angry cats.


The narrative pace is slow with many drawn out scenes. For example one long sequence just involves the youths poking around their new found prop erty. Jump scares are few and indeed even denied in scenes where you might expect one. Likewise there is no blood and guts. A young woman is impaled on a tree branch after being flung into the air by an angry spirit but we see very little. The most effective sequences are as low key as they are low tech: An unnoticed child stamds stock still in a doorway gazing in a baleful way at a room full of self-absorbed dancers.

Otherwise GUESTS constitutes a a cascade of spook paraphenalia: a seance,
figures glimpsed in bathroom mirrors, people being levitated and so on.
However, the real take-away from it all is the aesthetic appeal. We get
stunning shots of the coast early on and then when we go indoors it’s all the
muted browns and pastel green shades of an antique interior. Lovely.

Then Mark Dorbsky’s unobtruxive but brooding score reinforces the dreaminess of it all.

Here we get shown the Snapchat generation meeting their doom after kicking the hornets nest of a much older Crowleyesque set. Within that we get the usual kinds of tropes about obsessive love surviving death, the need for jusrice to be restored after so long and so on.


A shoulder shrug from compatriots.

What of the genertion this film is aimed at? Hating on their own domestic
cinema  is something of a Russian
past-time so it comes as no surprise to find, for  instance, someone calling herself `Kosmonaut Misha` on, in a piece entitled `I’m sorry I saw this`:

There is an atmosphere, but it is an aymosphere of stupidity and absurdity

Yet some people appreciate these more subdued slow burners. GUESTS belongs to the same spectral category as the Spanish film The Others (2001). It might seem anodyne in comparison with the circus thrills on offer from other glitzier films but it works on its own terms. This is by no means a breakthrough film, but a stepping stone towards a cinema genre that Russia remains quite new to.

Lead image: Film.Ru

Source link