Review: 'Guest of Honour' A Study in Guilt, Rage, Revenge

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday July 10, 2020

'Guest of Honor'
'Guest of Honor'  (Source:Kino Lorber)

Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan ("The Sweet Hereafter") writes and directs a dark, psychologically intense drama in which a father has nothing but rules left to cling to, while his daughter punishes herself for the things she's done — and hasn't done. Part memory play, part exploration of how misperception and rumor can take on mass and velocity that rivals reality, "Guest of Honour" is a study in guilt, rage, and revenge.

Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), a former band teacher, has been imprisoned for sexual impropriety with two male students. She embraces her confinement; indeed, she relishes it, even though she's innocent of the charges. Exactly what happened, and why things spun out of control, is only part of the picture, however; Veronica's father, Jim (David Thewlis), a widower, struggles with having lost first his wife and now, years later, his child. Visiting Veronica in jail, Jim bears her accusations and slowly starts to piece together the facts around her conviction; in doing so, he realizes his own past sins have a bearing on Veronica's state of mind, including her self-destructive stream and the fury she directs at him.

The film unfurls in flashback as Veronica meets with a priest, Father Greg (Luke Wilson), at first to discuss her father but then, as their chat continues, to explain her story, as well. Her memories are dark, murky, possessing a subaquatic and otherworldly quality; did she actually see the things she recalls? Or is there some veracity in alternate explanations such as the rebuttals with which her father answers her accusations?

Though beautifully filmed (with cinematography by Paul Sarossy), lushly scored (by Mychael Danna), and skillfully written, the film shows its seams, as a few story points line up and join together in contrived ways. Still, this dark and moody piece casts an effective and chilling spell, and Egoyan brings a literary quality to the movie that gives it a somber arthouse credibility. He also draws excellent performances from his cast, particularly Thewlis and De Oliveira.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.