The Guest (2014)

Directed By: Adam Wingard
Written By: Simon Barrett
Starring: Dan Stevens
  Maika Monroe
  Leland Orser
  Lance Reddick
The Guest

The Guest marks another impressive collaboration between Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard, previously responsible for 2010′s somber mumblecore effort A Horrible Way To Die, and 2011′s long delayed entry into the home invasion canon, You’re Next. The Guest shows a pleasing progression for both, firmly pegging them as two of the most knowledgeable and intelligent filmmakers currently working in genre film.

The premise of the film is pleasingly simple, obviously inspired by a mixture of 80′s action, horror and dark comedy. Barrett and Wingard have mentioned in countless interviews that their inspiration came from back-to-back viewings of The Terminator and Halloween and although those references might not be immediately apparent, there’s the unavoidable, pervasive aura of both of those classics throughout.

All American ex-soldier David shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family one day. He maintains that he was a friend of, and served alongside their now deceased son and had promised to check in on them out of loyalty. Although the family are initially suspicious of the stranger, they’re very quickly won over by his calm demeanour and easy charm and allow him into their home for an increasingly extended period of time.

Although David appears to have a positive influence on all aspects of the Peterson’s lives, daughter Anna’s suspicions about him are raised and once she starts digging into his background, dark secrets are unearthed. To give away any more would be to do the film a disservice. It really is a very simple story, and watching it play out is incredibly tense, compelling and thrilling.

Although it’s presented as something of a slow burn thriller, The Guest is actually very funny in places. There are knowing winks to other movies, sly glances and incredibly dark humour to be found at every turn and I found myself laughing uncomfortably far more than I thought I might.

Dan Stevens as David is a revelation. As someone who has thus far avoided the phenomenon that is Downton Abbey, despite being British and female, Stevens hadn’t been on my radar before now. His slight Southern American drawl is perfect and he provides just the right amount of charm and menace to make the Petersons, and the audience, fall under his spell. It could have quite easily tipped into odious smarm in the hands of a lesser actor but Stevens excels, both in the acting stakes, and the physical ones, during the films more action packed moments.

The rest of the cast pulls their weight admirably too. Maika Monroe seems to be making a name for herself as something of a minor Scream Queen and in The Guest she provides the audience with a protagonist to root for. Thanks to a combination of clever writing and decent acting chops, she elevates Anna into someone we like, and whom we want to survive. Leland Orser provides many of the lighter moments of comic relief in his role as the possibly alcohol dependent Peterson patriarch and Brendan Meyer (whom I just can’t believe isn’t related to Chloe Moretz!) is the bullied, downtrodden son. Brief but welcome appearances from Lance Reddick, AJ Bowen and Ethan Embry help round out the cast.

As evidenced in You’re Next, Wingard has an ear for a catchy tune, and he’s soundtracked The Guest with an eclectic mix of modern electro and 80′s synth-goth-pop which provides the perfect musical backdrop for a film so steeped in nostalgia but with such a fresh voice too. The importance of sound in film can never be over-stated and Wingard seems incredibly, refreshingly aware of that fact.

Although The Guest isn’t dramatically original, it’s short, it’s punchy and it left a nihilistic smile on my face for a long time after the viewing. Seek it out at your earliest convenience and sit with baited breath to see what Wingard and Barrett focus their collective talents on next.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

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