Dear Guest (2020)

I’ve long since surpassed my Hollywood-mainstream film attendances with my affection for the new breed cultivated in film festivals: I love going to film festivals, seeing short films, and acting in short films: the camaraderie of the indie environs is pure electric. It’s oxygen. It’s life.

I got my start in the entertainment industry by way of radio broadcasting, where I was able to support indie-labeled bands and unsigned local musicians. And that affection for the independent spirit carried over as I started acting in indie shorts (I even supplied props, wardrobes, and “roadied” them). And watching a film like Dear Guest makes me jealous, and nostalgic at the same time, as none of my writer-directors possessed the skills of Megan Freels Johnson.

I appreciate that Johnson understands the concept of a short film. Short films should be just that: short. Dear Guest is well-written and edited, and gives us full-character arcs and development in the space of 10 minutes: exactly as a short film should. No, this won’t turn into a college thesis on the craft of screenwriting, and act structure, and etc., but take my word for it: Megan Freels Johnson knows her stuff—and a bag o’ chips.

Currently making the rounds at a film festival near you, Dear Guest is a psychological noir-thriller of the Alfred Hitchcock-cum-Twilight Zone variety—with a twist of Polanksi (and one more of our favorite writer-directors)—where nothing is at it seems.

The “dear guests” are Maria and Jules (Ashley Bell of The Last Exorcism and Noureen DeWulf of NBC-TV’s currently-airing Good Girls), a couple who checks into a beautifully furnished rental for a long-awaited vacation, only to discover they’ve walked into an elaborate mouse-trap tended by its anonymous host.

“I’m so happy I made you take time off work,” kisses Maria.

“You didn’t make me,” scowls Jules.

Uh, oh. Maria needs a rethink . . . in more ways than one. This vaycay is going off the rails, one way or another.

Then, as Jules goes off to check out the bedroom and put away their bags—she vanishes. Then the front door to the house is locked—from the outside. And a plain white “Dear Guest” place card appears in the empty bedroom—with a riddle held within its crease.

Jules discovers she’s a game piece and she needs to follow the clues: such as that theatrical one-sheet for Ann-Margret’s The Swinger . . . and that Hot Wheels car on the floor. . . . Maria’s been kidnapped, bound and gagged in the garage, inside a car . . . and the card is rigged to go up in flames.

As the couple tries to escape, another card appears on the rear kitchen door—with bullet-soundproof glass, and the house is covered in it. What will happen during the next three days, discloses the place card.

When the camera slowly zooms—in conjunction with the ambient tinkles of a xylophone backed by ominous strings—on that stoic, poolside griffin through the prison-like wrought iron fence . . . wow. That’s a pure—and welcomed—Dan Curtis vibe, he the master of ‘70s psychological and supernatural thriller TV movies. And we should know: we waxed nostalgic for a whole week over his resume (shamless plug: check out our last month’s Exploring: Dan Curtis featurette roundup).

Here’s to hoping the plans to expand this chiller into a feature film come to fruition, as we want more. And that is exactly what a short film should do: leave you wanting more. . . .

You’ll also remember Ashley Bell from her guest appearance on a rerun of CSI: Crime Scene Investigations (I’m currently binging on it) and Showtime’s United States of Tara. You’ll also recognize Noureen DeWulf from her role as “Lacey” on Fox-TV’s Anger Management and her support roles in the theatricals Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and The Backup Plan. The point: you know the acting in Dear Guest is top-notch.

You can watch Megan Freels Johnson’s feature film writing and directing debut, 2014’s Rebound, for free—via a legal stream with limited commercials—on TubiTv and Vudu, or via your Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Google Play accounts. Her follow up to Rebound, 2017’s The Ice Cream Truck, is also available on the TubiTv and Vudu platforms, as well as Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and You Tube Movies.

Johnson’s third and fourth feature films in her horror oeuvre, Hunting Season and Asking for It, are currently in pre-production. And Hunting Season sounds really good, as any movie with Bruce Davison, from the horror classic Willard, usually is (and we get Meadow Soprano, aka Jamie-Lynn Sigler, in the bargain): Deanna Russo of The Ice Cream Truck stars as a young woman on a weekend getaway with her new boyfriend, only to discover “hunting season” is all year round. Who’s the cat and who’s the mouse? Who’s the hunter and who’s the prey?

I have to admit: I wasn’t aware of Johnson’s work until writing this review for Dear Guest, so I’m going to let you go. It looks like I’ve got some movies to watch.

Oh wait! Sorry, but we have to click bait you with another shameless plug before you go. (Send your complaints to Megan: she’s the one making movies about ice cream.) So, when you get a chance, check our B&S reviews for one of my favorite films, Clint Howard’s Ice Cream Man, and Sam’s, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny.

Okay. Now class is dismissed. See you on Monday. Beware the Ice Cream Man, kids.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR company and, as you know, that has no bearing on our review.

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