The Guest (2014) Review.
Following the less than favourable review of You’re Next earlier this year, it may come as surprising that I gave Adam Wingard another chance. The main motivation for checking out this year’s Film4’s FrightFest’s opening film was due to the soundtrack being played at the 2014 Celluloid Screams Horror Festival prior to the screenings which piqued my interest. A couple of tracks including ‘Because I Love You (The Postman Song)’ by Stevie B and ‘Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Version)’ by Annie were featured as part of our Ghostface Girls coverage. After discovering the songs were from the film’s soundtrack it was finally nice to have some context provided and also the wonderment of what kind of film would these songs be included in. One thing for certain was that if The Guest didn’t meet the high expectations that the horror community had suggested then at least the music would be an enjoyable factor. The synth powered soundtrack cements The Guest’s Drive (2011) comparisons that borders on homage and parody.
Its all too good to be true when a young soldier from the US army turns up uninvited at the door of the Peterson family. Mourning the loss of their own son Caleb in the war, David Collins fills the void he left behind and gets his feet firmly under the table claiming to be a friend of their deceased son. With the vulnerable and grieving Peterson family welcoming him in, David begins to show there’s more to him than meets the eye. The Guest ramps up its suspense through the majority of the film, leaving us question who is David or more appropriately, what is he? As the Peterson’s young daughter’s Anna’s suspicions grow will the family realize how dangerous their charming new guest really is?
The Guest is Wingard’s love letter to 80’s action movies and thrillers such as The Terminator. Its a hybrid of genres that somehow work well together creating a mind-blowing movie experience whether you love it or hate it. Before it starts to sound like I’m wholeheartedly praising the film it must be said that it isn’t without its flaws. Some of the editing is shoddy with abrupt cuts used to end scenes without fully developing them. The opening scene was slightly problematic as it begins with the mysterious David descending on the Peterson household without establishing them as a family unit. It places us straight into the action without allowing much introduction which would have created a stronger bond and empathy between audience and characters.
The film’s strength lies in its high octane tension and superb performances from the cast. British actor Dan Stevens (Downton Abby) portrays David with charm, enigma and a sense of danger bringing in a highly entertaining performance. Maika Monroe is equally as phenomenal as Anna, the only family member not completely fooled by David and suspects there’s something much darker at play with him. Monroe keeps us gripped throughout, she portrays Anna as a smart and sophisticated young woman who will do whatever it takes to protect her family. The dynamic between David and the Peterson’s youngest son Luke (Brendan Meyer) creates some intense and powerful moments as Luke becomes embroiled in David’s unorthodox methods of dealing with high school bullies. Meyer delivers a strong performance as the brooding teenager. Sheila Kelley is the vulnerable and naive mother Laura. Consumed by grief for the loss of her eldest son, there’s a sense of longing about her making her one of the more susceptible characters to David’s charming tactics. Leland Orser plays the father Spencer, a broken man who loses his authoritative grip on his household. In an interesting shift of dynamics Spencer is not the typical patriarchal type, he is apathetic and accepting of David from the beginning. Leland Orser is certainly an actor to keep an eye out for. His performance is naturalistic and believable, however his range as an actor can be seen in Faults (2014) a deeply psychological thriller that also toured the festival circuit this year.
Simon Barrett’s (Wingard’s collaborative parter) script is unapologetic. Together with Wingard they have created the movie they wanted to make, a throwback to the genres they love. While it may not be to everyone’s tastes, particularly with the shift in tone from traditional, compelling thriller to all out action packed violence and the ambiguity that surrounds David’s experience in the US army, The Guest remains a hell of a thrill ride that keeps us on the edge of our seats. However, toward the end there are moments that disappoint and seem unnecessary to the story but as previously stated its affected by the shift in tone and the unapologetic nature of Wingard’s direction of where he intended the film to go. While both The Guest and You’re Next deal with broken family dynamics and mindless violence, The Guest ranks high above Barrett and Wingard’s take on the slasher sub-genre with more stylish cinematography, stronger performances and humanized characters. Between the two films there is a clear trend of a slow, intense build up that results in all out carnage. The Guest is a film that’s unique in its own way. Theoretically it has something for everyone with its twist on a number of genres. The movie’s last line (which I won’t reveal here) perfectly sums up the craziness that unfolds throughout.
Welcome David as your Guest this New Year with a UK DVD and Blu-Ray release released December 29th!
Hayley Alice Roberts