By Leah Greenblatt
March 01, 2019 at 12:39 PM EST
IFC Films

The phrase “low-key thriller” might be an oxymoron, but it also feels like the best description of The Wedding Guest, a movie shot through with long pauses and quiet melancholy that also happens to feature an international kidnapping, multiple murders, and at least one noir-ish double cross.

Its protagonist — more antihero than hero, though even that word sounds too definitive — is Jay (Dev Patel), a man so inscrutable he doesn’t so much live in the world as move through it, like a disaffected ghost.

As he travels alone from London to Lahore and then further into rural Pakistan, he never speaks more than the bare minimum required to acquire a rental car, a burner phone, and a cache of guns. Who is this cipher of a man, and what kind of wedding could he possibly be going to?

Some form of answer finally comes when he breaks into a family compound in the middle of the night and forcibly makes away with Samira (Bollywood star Radhika Apte). She’s the bride-to-be, though it’s an arranged marriage, and her abduction doesn’t seem entirely unwelcome. Maybe that’s why she seems so cooperative, even as she’s shoved into a trunk and otherwise manhandled by her preternaturally calm captor, whose motivations will soon be clear.

Writer-director Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, 24 Hour Party People) maintains a muted tone throughout, almost as if he’s congenitally allergic to the genre he’s penned himself into. Even as blood is spilled and trusts betrayed, the movie feels more like a travelogue or a tone poem than anything resembling a conventional kidnap drama.

The unraveling of the plot’s central mystery, and the establishment of a tentative romance, might not carry at all if it weren’t for the two actors at its center. Apte, part femme fatale, part heedless girl, is gorgeous to watch. And Patel, the Slumdog Millionaire breakout who cemented his leading-man gifts in 2016’s Lion, has the kind of pensive, burning presence that consistently draws the camera toward him.

By any prevailing action-movie metric, Guest barely bothers to meet the traditional wham-bam metrics of the genre. But as an intriguing, impressionistic wisp of a story, its mood and colors linger on the screen. B

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