Let’s face it: Graduate students don’t make for particularly interesting movie subjects. Probably because they think too much, talk too much, and focus on their studies more than ordinary college students. (The last good feature we can recall with a grad student as its lead was Marathon Man, back in 1976. And no, Flatliners doesn’t count.) But The Guest Room, a Canadian gem from 2003 proves that sometimes, a passive, cynical intellectual can be a compelling protagonist indeed. A jaded grad student looking for some peace and quiet rents out a room from a blandly neurotic suburban family and quickly becomes the object of both the mother’s affections and the 13-year-old daughter’s curiosity.
Of course, this isn’t really a movie about a grad student; as the story progresses, the teenage daughter (played with eerie precision by Katie Boland) gradually takes center stage. Alternately droll and discomforting, The Guest Room sneaks up on you: It starts off as a harmless comedy of mores and then transforms into something infinitely more creepy. But luckily, writer-director Skander Halim (who would go on to write the controversial Evan Rachel Wood high school satire Pretty Persuasion) never abandons the film’s tone of acute, deadpan bewilderment. It’s hilarious, but you’ll want to take a shower afterwards. Part One is above; Part Two is after the jump. —Bilge Ebiri