Atom Egoyan Will (Obviously) Make Another Complicated Family Drama

Atom Egoyan is no stranger to examining the follies of human existence. The Canadian filmmaker burst onto the film scene as part of the Toronto New Wave of the 1980s, peering into various forms of dysfunction ever since his first movie Next of Kin. Even as he began to move decidedly toward the mainstream with the aid of several big-name stars in his later years behind the camera, Egoyan’s dramas lean towards being distinctly stark and provocative.

His next film, Guest of Honour, will likely be no different. As reported by Deadline, the finalized cast list for this twisty family drama includes David Thewlis (Harry Potter), Laysla De Oliveira (iZombie), and Luke Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums). Egoyan will direct Guest of Honour from his own original screenplay about a father and daughter so haunted by the specters of their past that their present-day actions only serve to isolate themselves further from the world.

De Oliveira will play Veronica, who is wrongfully indicted for a sexual assault she didn’t commit. Shockingly, Veronica accepts her resulting prison sentence, doing so as a way to atone for mysterious past sins unrelated to the crime in question. This deeply confounds her father Jim (Thewlis) and these troubles gravely affect his job as a food inspector, where he holds a significant amount of influence over small, family-owned establishments. As Deadline ominously states, “It’s a power [Jim] doesn’t hesitate to use.” Finally, Wilson comes into the picture as a priest named Father Greg, in whom Veronica ends up confiding about her transgressions.

Already, unrelenting convolution bubbles beneath Guest of Honour in the same way that many of Egoyan’s movies tap into a similar level of inscrutability. His films, which tend to relish in controversial subject matters that circle various aspects of trauma, often rely on tense scenarios and mysterious circumstances that are bolstered by a moody atmosphere and nonlinear storytelling. As evidenced by the cryptic, languid, and ultimately devastating dissection of loneliness in Exotica as well as the depressing portrait of collective grief in The Sweet Hereafter — Egoyan’s early gems — his movies can be strangely cathartic if exceptionally confronting.

On the surface, Guest of Honour has all the tenets of a potential Egoyan success story. The premise harks back to the many portraits of flawed humanity that have peppered his work in the past. But his recent films give me pause. Egoyan simply ought not to repeat the trend of frustrating implausibility that he’s keenly pursued for the past decade if Guest of Honour is to be a much-welcomed return to his old harrowing stomping grounds.

Because The Captive is a prime example of a quintessentially Egoyan feature that sadly misses the mark. The director misuses his signature flair for artful imagery and pensive ambiance here, creating a weirdly paced and unsuitably fantastical depiction of child abduction. There’s hardly any critique of the problematic themes of manipulation and pedophilia featured in the movie, which is its biggest pitfall. Even with a cast as dynamic as Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos taking the lead, the feature is stale and detached.

The same could be said about Devil’s Knot, Egoyan’s muddy police procedural about the real case of the West Memphis Three. The biographical drama about three teenagers wrongfully convicted of cult-related murder tries to cram a ton of information into its 114-minute runtime. Devil’s Knot documents a community in the immediate aftermath of a collective crisis. However, there is not much insight into the emotional and psychological repercussions that come from such a horrific event. A crucial layer of palpable empathy is missing in the film.

Comparatively, the revenge thriller Remember ultimately comes across too schlocky and frivolous for its painful and challenging storyline to make a big impact. The movie gets points for giving Christopher Plummer a daring and unconventional role as an elderly Holocaust survivor hunting down a Nazi war criminal. Yet there is discernible dissonance between Remember‘s pulpy beats and the necessary serious undertones it has to maintain with regard to its very weighty topic.

Finally, the erotic thriller Chloe, Egoyan’s remake of the French thriller Nathalie, winds up being too melodramatic in a plainly unbelievable way. At the very least, it isn’t actually void of the requisite passion or chemistry between its leads. Nevertheless, while attempting to preserve enigma, the film completely obstructs us from fully getting to the core relationship between Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore’s protagonists. Once again, the acting is one of the better parts about Chloe. Seyfried and Moore manage to bring much-needed nuance to their respective roles.

Rather than coalesce into a series of sobering realizations concerning human nature, Egoyan’s movies in the last decade have been decidedly fanciful. And unfortunately, they merely result in diminishing returns. Their good intentions are clear, but they are bland in execution and are far from the masterpieces that once defined his career.

There’s no need to doubt Egoyan’s casting choices, though; they’ve proven to be the most consistent thing about his movies. There’s some unpredictability attached to having a relative newbie like De Oliveira take on one of the leads against veterans like Thewlis and Wilson. Nevertheless, putting actors into unexpected scenarios has worked in Egoyan’s favor, even if his films don’t holistically pan out.

According to Variety’s initial announcement of Guest of Honour, Egoyan has nothing but intense enthusiasm for his screenplay and I hope that translates into a similarly affecting and passionate film. It’s high time that he revisit the emotionality that put him on the map in the first place, regardless of how shocking or contentious his subject matter is.

Sheryl Oh: @sherhorowitz Often chugging tea and thinking about horror movies. Particularly loves writing stuff and things with a feminist bent here at Film School Rejects.