DEAR GUEST ** USA 2020 Dir: Megan Freels Johnston. 11 mins
Writer-producer-director Megan Freels Johnston’s film sees Ashley Bell and her significant other (Noureen DeWulf) enjoying a much-needed break at a secluded cabin, complete with old movie posters, a luxury pool – and a mysterious, unseen host. Something is, alas, a little off – and this is confirmed when DeWulf disappears, with a card addressed to “Dear Guest” providing a series of rhyming instructions, threatening her life unless Bell can follow and solve the strategically placed clues. This SAW-like set-up overseen by an all-powerful, off-camera puppet master (minus the sadism and gore) creates some initial tension despite the over-familiarity, but the suspense is weakened by an intrusive and old-fashioned orchestral score. What’s more, it builds to an open ending rather than an actual dramatic climax. The two leads are very good: it’s great to see the talented Ashley Bell, who was exceptional in THE LAST EXORCISM and the only good thing about its ill-advised sequel.
Review by Steven West