The Spanish film Contratiempo is written and directed by Oriol Paulo and is available on Netflix. It stars Mario Casas, Bárbara Lennie, José Coronado and Ana Wagener in the lead roles. The film is a pleasure to watch and it keeps you on your toes. While the story is actually pretty straightforward, the non-linear storytelling is what gives it the vitality. Can’t say further without spoiling it for you. Do give this masterpiece a watch and read further. Here’s the Spanish film Invisible Guest explained, spoiler alert.
Adrian Doria (Mario) – The businessman.
Laura Vidal (Bárbara) – The fashion photographer.
Daniel Garrido – The boy killed in the accident.
Tomas Garrido (José) – The boy’s father.
Virginia Goodman / Elvira Garrido (Ana) – The boy’s mother.
Felix Leiva – Adrián’s lawyer.
The Real Virginia Goodman – A defense attorney sent by Félix.
The execution of the movie revolves around the events which told by different people. Therefore these events change as the movie progresses. But first, let’s go through what happened in reality.
What Actually Happened
Adrián and Laura are both married individuals having an affair. Both of them get into the relationship to experience the thrill of it. Neither of them intends to leave their spouses. In one such meet in Bierge (where Adrián has told his wife he is in Paris), they decide to call off their relationship as they don’t want to destroy their marriages. While the movie shows Adrián feeling guilty and Laura being free of guilt, the reality is probably reversed. Laura wants to end their carnal relationship. On their drive back, they are discussing this and Adrián loses sight of an oncoming car and collides with it. Adrián and Laura are not hurt but the kid in the other car seems to be dead. This kid is Daniel. He’s not dead, just very badly hurt.
Laura quickly starts calling the cops. Adrián stops her saying that their lives will be ruined by this. He says they can just drive away and no one has to know that they were there. That it can look like Daniel hit a deer and died. Laura agrees and they head back to their car but their car doesn’t start.
They hear another car coming by, Adrián acts quickly and hides Daniel’s body by tilting him down. He creates a scene as though Adrián and Laura have had an accident and are merely exchanging numbers. The driver asks if they need any help. Just then, Daniel’s phone rings. Adrián goes to the car and picks it up, cuts the call and acts like it’s the insurance company. The driver goes away but now he is a witness. Adrián says he needs to get rid of the car and body. He leaves Laura there with Daniel’s phone and asks her to wait for help. Adrián transfers Daniel to the boot and leaves with his car.
As Laura sits in the car and waits for service to come for help, she’s approached by another car. It’s Tomás Garrido, Daniel’s father. He’s driving by and stops to help Laura, she doesn’t know that he’s Daniel’s father. Tomás asks for a flashlight, Laura fumbles as it is not her car. She quickly says that it’s her sister’s car which she has borrowed. He tows her car and they take it to his place to get it fixed. She says her name is Raquel and that she owns a bookstore. Tomás says that he lives with his wife who has cancer and that the two of them were into theatre long ago and that’s how they met. This part is crucial. Tomás and his wife know how to portray a character through the means of acting. Being part of theatre also gives them the know-how of makeup.
Laura is tense but they don’t suspect anything. Tomás gets working on the car. Laura and Elvira sit to chat and she gives Laura a picture of her son. She realizes that she is in the very house of the kid they have killed. Elvira gets a call saying her son hasn’t reached yet. She begins to worry. Laura prepares to leave but Elvira says she’s going to call Daniel. Laura has Daniel’s phone. As it begins ringing, she puts it on the couch and covers it with a pillow. Elvira finds it odd that the Daniel left home without his phone. Laura leaves, but as she sits, she adjusts the car seat before driving off – meaning someone else was driving it before her.
Daniel was still alive!
In the meanwhile, Adrián drives off to a remote lake and opens the boot. He notices that Daniel is still alive but realizes that it is too late, the plan is already set in motion. He takes Daniel’s wallet and shuts the boot. He begins to push the car and hears a ruffling sound. It’s a deer. Adrián pushes the car into the late drowning and killing Daniel. He calls Laura from a public phone and meets up with her. They exchange their stories but Adrián doesn’t mention that Daniel was still alive.
The car is found
They get rid of the car at a scrapyard. Adrián and Laura decide never to meet again. Adrián goes back pretending like he has gotten back from Paris and reports that his car was stolen from a public parking lot. He also mentions that he has lost his parking ticket. He uses the bank card in the wallet to get money siphoned into Daniel’s account. This frames Daniel for running away with 50,000 euros of the bank’s money. The news says that Daniel has faked his own death to run away with the money. Tomás and Elvira are destroyed by this news. Adrián goes back to his life. He gains success. He lives happily. Tomás later comes to know that his son’s car’s debris is found at the same spot he helped the lady (Laura). He begins suspecting her but is unable to reach her as she tells him her name is Raquel. One day at the police office, Tomás sees Adrián being brought in for questioning. The authorities have identified that Adrián’s car was found in and around the vicinity of the accident. But Adrián mentions the complaint that he had launched about his stolen car. He tells his lawyer Félix about his relationship with Laura and that he was not in Paris on the day of the accident. Félix arranges for an alibi and Adrián gets away.
Going after Adrián
Tomás, however, loses faith in the judiciary system and begins to follow Adrián because he is the only lead. Tomás also believes that there must have been another person in the car with the lady because she adjusts her seat before driving away, which means a taller person (most likely a man) was driving that car.
Meanwhile, Laura is unable to cope with the guilt. She feels she owes the parents closure and that they need to turn themselves in. She begins having acute anxiety attacks.
Tomás confronts Adrián at an event and demands to know where his son is. Tomás confirms that the second person in the car was Adrián when he sees his cigarette lighter. He sees the same lighter in the car on the day of the accident. Tomás tosses the lighter into a decorative pool and notices the expression on Adrián’s face. He confirms that Adrián must have dumped Daniel’s car in some lake. Soon security gets to Tomás and they throw him out.
Laura tells the truth
Laura, in the meanwhile, decides that the only way she can regain her dignity is to tell the parents the truth. She wants to give them a sum of money and turn herself in. Obviously, Adrián wouldn’t agree. So Laura reaches out to Tomás and Elvira and arranges for a meeting at the hotel where Elvira worked. She books a hotel room in the name of Adrián. She sends him a note stating it’s from Daniel. The note reads “I know what you and your little friend did”. The note also has instructions on where he needs to go. She calls him from a public phone and lies to him saying someone knows what they did and she’s getting blackmailed. She makes him believe that the driver who passed by was the blackmailer and is demanding money. She goes to the hotel and waits for Adrián. She also programs a message from her phone to send to Adrián stating “I’LL TELL EVERYTHING ROOM 715, HOTEL BELLAVISTA”. When Adrián arrives, Laura tells him that she has set this up and that they needed to confess to the parents, give them the cash and turn themselves in. Adrián receives the message. He realizes that he has fallen into Laura’s trap and the reservation is in his name too.
Adrián kills Laura
Adrián loses his mind and kills Laura and gets trapped in a room he can’t escape from. Then he smashes his own head on the mirror and pleads innocent when the cops come in. He tells the authorities that there was someone else in the room who has framed him. Unfortunately for Adrián, all the windows in the room are sealed from the inside. There is no way to support his claim. Adrián becomes a prime suspect in Laura’s murder case and a trial begins.
Elvira becomes Virginia
Adrián has contacts. He and his lawyer Félix begin to work on a way to turn the case in their favour. Yet again, Tomás and Elvira are left helpless when they realize what has happened. Their one shot to find their son is now gone. They know that a powerful person like Adrián will get away again. So they wait and see what they can do to use the situation to their benefit. They take up a vacant room opposite Adrián’s house and observe and follow him and his lawyers. They realize that his lawyer Félix is arranging for a meet with Virginia Goodman, a defense attorney. Virginia has just retired and is taking this one up as her last case. Also, she has never lost a case. Tomás and Elvira follow and study Virginia Goodman in terms of mannerisms, clothing, appearances, etc. They create their master plan. Elvira, thanks to her theatre experience, impersonates Virginia Goodman and lands up at Adrián’s house. This is the how the movie begins. She has a pen which is bugged and is transmitting the entire conversation over to Tomás who is across the street, recording it. Adrián hasn’t met Virginia before, he’s perhaps seen her in pictures. He easily believes that Elvira is indeed Virginia, the defense attorney sent by his lawyer Félix.
Adrián’s Version Of What Happened: Version 1
What Adrián has been saying is that he is innocent and was set up. He claims that someone got to know about his affair with Laura and was blackmailing them both. That they were both called to that remote hotel and they went there with the money. Adrián claims that the attacker was in the room and he smashed Adrián’s head against the mirror and knocked him unconscious. When he gained consciousness he realized that the attacker has killed Laura and has escaped. In the initial plea, Adrián mentions nothing about Daniel or their car accident.
As Elvira (as Virginia) initially talks to Adrián, she knows this is utter bullshit and brings up and brings up the case of the missing boy – Daniel. She tells him “There’ll be no salvation without suffering, and you’re not smarter than I am”. Hence Adrián confesses his version of the accident story.
Adrián’s Version Of What Happened: Version 2
Since Adrián is the only survivor, he flips the roles and tries to paint a picture stating Laura was the real mastermind. He tweaks actual story with a few changes.
Adirán says that as they left the hotel in Bierge, they got into the accident with Daniel’s car. They thought that Daniel was dead. Adirán says that it was he who tried to call the cops but Laura stopped him. That when the car passed by, it was Laura who took the lead to hide Daniel’s body and pretend that they had had an accident. That it was Laura who asked him to get rid of Daniel’s car and body.
Adirán says that after they got rid of his car at the scrapyard, he got back home and filed a report stating his car was stolen. But then he says that Laura had taken Daniel’s wallet soon after the accident. He says that she used her husband’s computer to secretly login and frame Daniel for theft. Adirán says that she forced him to play alone unwillingly and threatened to go to the cops otherwise.
Eventually, the two of them were blackmailed by someone. In this version, the blackmailer knew the matter of the accident and wanted money to keep quiet. After that, he claims to have been attacked in the hotel room and when he gained consciousness he found Laura dead. As Elvira (as Virginia) knows that this too is utter bullshit because Laura had reached out to her to give details about Daniel. Soon after which Laura was dead. This takes us to the finale.
For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to Elvira, disguised as Virginia Goodman, as Elvira. However, Adrián thinks he’s talking to Virginia.
Elvira comes up with a false story of a last-minute witness that could turn the case around. Félix is off to find the driver from the day of the accident and bribe him to keep quiet. In reality, this is just a set-up and a distraction, the driver knows nothing and is just getting rich. Félix talks to Elvira on Adrián’s phone thinking it’s Virginia. After she’s done she switches off the phone and hands it to Adrián, he doesn’t notice this, now he can’t get any further calls.
Adrián suggests that perhaps the driver from the day of the accident got to know more and decided to make money off them and hence blackmailed them. Elvira has planned to head the discussion to make Tomás the mystery attacker in the hotel room. She says that there are three gaping holes in the story:
One: Why the incriminating message on your cell phone?
Two: Why didn’t the killer take the money if that was his main aim?
Three: How did he get in and out of the room like a ghost?
Elvira fills in with an explanation stating it was Tomás behind the blackmailing. That Tomás had the right motive to commit Laura’s murder and frame Adrián for it. But to implicate Tomás, Adrián will need to confess what he did to Daniel. Elvira explains that Tomás’ wife works at the very hotel he was lured to. She goes on to speculate that Tomás prepared the room with the help of his wife leaving one window open. After knocking down Adrián and killing Laura, he could have escaped from the room through that open window. Once the cops came to arrest Adrián, Tomás’ wife secretly locks the escape window from the inside. Elvira presents a photo of Adrián getting arrested and Tomás’ wife in the background. This picture is a fake. It’s an edited image to get Adrián to confess.
Location of the car
Elvira says that the final piece of the puzzle would be linking Laura to Daniel’s death directly. This would mean that they could tell the jury that Adrián was indeed in Paris and not with Laura on the day of the accident. She killed Daniel and Tomás is unjustly linking accusing Adrián for the disappearance of his son. All that needs to be done is place an object of Laura’s in Daniels submerged car. Elvira has put up this entire theory to get Adrián to give away the location of Daniel’s car. Elvira adds that there is no witness, that she lied about it. She says this because she wanted Adrián to start telling the truth. Adrián says that he lied to find out if Elvira (Virginia) could link Tomás to the murder. Adrián now fully believes her and gives away the location of the car. He also goes on to say that Daniel wasn’t actually dead but it was too late and he drowned him. The autopsy on the body will give away the cause of death. He says he needs that autopsy to be stopped. Elvira is devastated because what she thought was an accident so far is now a cold-blooded murder. Her son was murdered for no fault of his and she’s standing in front of the culprit and is playing the role of Virginia and can do nothing but listen and react. She almost goes out of character and gets furious. She calms down and says that she will not lose her last case and let her record be tainted.
Elvira begins her final play. She says that she feels Adrián is still hiding something. She suggests that it may not have been Laura who took lead in getting rid of Daniel and the evidence. And that Adrián was the mastermind after all. She needs this final piece of confession from him. Remember, this entire conversation is being transmitted and recorded. She narrates the events as they actually happened. She also points out that Tomás has been following and watching Adrián from across the road. Adrián says that the photo proves Tomás’ involvement in Laura’s murder. Elvira discloses that the picture is a fake. That in reality, Tomás’ wife was off that day and had gone there to meet Laura. Remember, Elvira is Tomás’ wife, she’s merely narrating a memory. She demands for Adrián to confess that he killed Laura to get her help to convince the judge, and he does.
Adrián’s switched-off phone
Félix has been trying to call (but Adrián’s phone is off) and finally gets through to Adrián with a message saying that he has removed the threat of the driver. Elvira has all she needs now. She says they can continue in 10 min and she’s going out to clear her head. Adrián tells Félix that he had to tell Virginia everything. Just then Adrián identifies the pen to be the source of the disturbance on the call. He opens the pen to notice that it’s bugged. He looks into the notes that Virginia (Elvira) has been taking through their conversation and realizes that they are empty. As he looks through his window, he can see Virginia (Elvira) in Tomás’ room. She takes off her makeup to reveal that she is Elvira, the boy’s mother, and not Virginia. Adrián realizes the entire session was a setup and he’s given a detailed confession about everything. Adrián’s doorbell rings. He opens the door. It’s the real Virginia Goodman. On the other side, Tomás calls the cops saying “I want to tell you the truth about what happened to my son”
There’ll be no salvation without suffering.