For the purpose of this review, let us categorize films into two basic camps. In the first camp we find a film that has worked its way through the business of funding, demographic research, producers, and marketing. This is the film that is at your local multiplex. Some are quality, some are not, but they are all created with a large emphasis on the film as product: profit margins and all. In the second camp, we find the passion projects. These are the films made with out of pocket money by a group of friends with passion as the primary motivator. What this second camp of films lack in high-budget production value they make up for with a real sense of love and care towards their little movie. House Guest, directed by Jake Jalbert and written by and starring Alex Vincent, is well within the second camp. Armed with a true micro-budget and mostly one location, the cast and crew come prepared with a real sense of enthusiasm and passion. The question, though: is all of that enough to make it a good film?
That question is the most difficult question for a critic to answer. In a perfect world the narrative of a film would be judged on its own merits. The knowledge of the real world logistics of making the film and the consequential context created by that knowledge would ideally play no part in its analysis. But this is not a perfect world, we are human with empathy that understand that not all situations are created equal. This cannot be analyzed in the same scope as The Conjuring, for instance, for many reasons, budget being at the forefront of reasons. You take millions of dollars and a cast and crew that has no other “day jobs” to concern themselves with and you are at an immediate advantage. With all of that said, with all of the outside influences and real-life obstacles innate in this kind of film, it really can’t be said that House Guest is a “good” film.
Beyond the expected shortcomings, mismatched audio mixes, strange editing choices, and amateurish acting, the script of House Guest leaves a lot to be desired. There are scenes of people watching the same news cast while asking the same plot-based questions, as well as an extended sequence of a guy checking Facebook and ordering pizza, that just seem redundant, unnecessary, and generally confused. The plot itself does take a slight turn from the expected norm towards the finale, but the overall experience seems pretty familiar and derivative. Also, actors often seem confused, almost as if they were expected to improvise entire scenes with no real direction of where they should end up.
So no, House Guest isn’t a film that is going to set the cinematic world on fire. But, it is a film that was made with passion and all the best intentions. That is why it is unfair to judge it too harshly. This was not a quick money grab attempt or a calculated market move. It is a film that a group of people that obviously love movies, and are passionate about working within that arena, have come together and attempted something. So while the film isn’t a technical or narrative success in the traditional sense, it is an effective playground for these creative people to do what they love, and learn their craft as they do so. That means that while House Guest may not be a resounding success, it very well may be a document of the early works of talented people learning their way. And, really, that’s probably enough.