There is no shortage of mystery in Guest of Honour, the darkly compelling new release from Canadian writer-director Atom Egoyan. Structured around a conversation between a young woman named Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) and the priest (Luke Wilson) who is to bury her late father, Jim (David Thewlis), the film jumps backwards and forwards in time, unfurling through liberal layers of flashbacks, as we see Jim — a former restaurateur and British expat in Canada — at work as a health inspector.
He wanders in and out of restaurants, bars and takeaways, commending some and condemning others to closure. At home he tends to Benjamin Bunny, a sixteen year old specimen left to him to care for since the death of his wife. He also visits Veronica in prison, where she is serving time for abusing her position of trust while employed as a high school orchestra conductor. Whether she is guilty or not is initially left vague, but it is made clear that she is in no hurry to be released.
The pile of family secrets reaches almost ludicrous levels as Egoyan slowly reveals his hand. Alongside the circumstances surrounding Veronica’s crime, the zippy 105-minute runtime takes in infidelity, suicide, extortion, illegal meat, fake rat faeces and a jealous bus driver. The burdens of guilt, shame and reputation are central here, but the knotty plotting may leave viewers scratching their heads as to exactly what the film has to say about these heavy subjects. Nevertheless, a quietly committed performance from Thewlis means Guest of Honour is never less than absorbing.