- on Friday, 12 September 2014 16:54
- by Frank Wilkins
It’s time to get on the Wingard/Barrett bandwagon. If you missed last year’s You’re Next, a twisty-turny little revisit to the home-invasion slasher genre, then that’s a good place for you to start. The director/writer team has been on quite a roll with segments in V/H/S, V/H/S 2, The ABC’s of Death, and various film shorts before that. The fun continues with The Guest, a nail-biting retro-thriller that borrows much of the look, feel, and sound of the B-movies we watched on cable television back in the ‘80s, while bringing plenty of freshness and originality to a modern-day topic.
Grieving mother Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley) is greeted on her doorstep by a recently discharged soldier named David (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens) who brings a message a love from her family’s recently deceased son, Caleb, who was killed while the two were serving in Afghanistan.
We’re immediately taken by David’s charm and likability as he’s invited on an indefinite stay into the Peterson family’s home. He cooks, cleans and helps Laura around the house, aids younger Peterson son Luke (Brendan Meyer) with school bullies, commiserates with patriarch Spencer (Leland Orser) about his dead-end job, and befriends angsty, rebellious daughter Anna (Maika Monroe). He’s the model houseguest. But it’s when he asks a local drug dealer to hook him up with a gun that makes us suspect he’s not all he appears to be.
As unexplained shockingly violent acts begin to turn up in the normally peaceful New Mexico town, Anna becomes curious about David’s past. Her suspicions are confirmed when she learns of several red flags involving David’s history with a secret military contractor. The stage is set for a final bloody confrontation which turns the story’s tone into that of an exuberantly bloody horror film.
As was the case in You’re Next, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are able to defy cinematic convention by successfully turning their story into something else mid stream. The tonal shifts in The Guest should not work, but the cheeky homages in Barrett’s script and Stevens’ study of menace hidden within an Eddie Haskell shell is near genius. And kudos for the filmmakers' uncompromising restraint with the film’s pacing. It’s a slow burn into madness along the lines of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, but tinted with shades of anything by John Carpenter. Successfully weaving over-the-top visceral horror elements into a highly refined character study is a difficult technique to master, but they’ve done it twice in a row now, so it’s hard to believe it was just luck. These guys are the real deal.
None of it works however, without Dan Stevens successfully playing against his beguiling Downton Abbey repute. He’s equal parts charisma and menace, with a pearly-white sparkle that hides the heart of his coal-black soul. There’s something particularly disturbing behind the apple-pie charm of a character capable of such violent deeds. But he’s so darn likable we’re by his side throughout.
Then there’s professional kiteboarder-turned actress Maika Monroe who admirably steps into her first major role as tough-girl Anna. She has definite talent and a certain je ne sais quoi that will keep her in starring roles for some time to come.
Some won’t find themselves able to completely digest the film’s somewhat formulaic climax that takes place in a high school Halloween funhouse complete with blinding smoke, boogeymen, and even a hall of mirrors. But others will appreciate the act’s dark humor, its unseen twist, and an ability to make us feel that it’s okay to laugh at the absurdities of the situation.
It would be refreshing to see Wingard and Barrett eventually step outside their shared nostalgia for 1980’s thrillers and sci-fi films and begin to display a wit and style of their very own. But if You’re Next and The Guest are any indicator of things to come, it’s only a matter of time before the pair are soon emulated by others.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality.
Runtime: 99 mins
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Cast: Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelley, Maika Monroe
Genre: Thriller | Horror
Tagline: Will you let him in.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm a soldier, man. I like guns."
Release Date: September 17, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: January 6, 2014.
Synopsis: Still struggling over the loss of their oldest son, Caleb, to the war in Afghanistan, the Peterson family finds some solace when an unexpected visitor knocks on its door. David, a steely eyed and charismatic soldier who was recently discharged, is welcomed into their home when he comes to fulfill a promise he made to his fallen comrade. Siblings Anna and Luke are at first reluctant to accept Davids presence, but he soon wins them over by scoring kegs for Annas friends and roughing up some bullies from Lukes school. Though he appears to be the perfect houseguest, a mysterious and sinister chain of events causes Anna to question whether David is actually whom he claims to be.
Available on Blu-ray - January 6, 2014
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; iTunes digital copy; DVD copy; BD-Live
Region Encoding: Region-free
Courtesy of Universal, The Guest’s 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation slays the competition. The bright colors really pop on this transfer, which is important to a movie that's meant to evoke the lonely neon hues of many vintage 1980s thrillers. Reds, particularly in the hall-of-mirrors sequence, are gorgeously vibrant, and the intentional grain texture - meant to give the film a somewhat timeless look - comes through subtly. The intentional glare of certain lighting is crisp, and the blacks are beautifully inky. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which should be heard loud, boasts impressive sound fields.
- Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett deliver a not-to-miss commentary that actually enriches the experience of watching the movie, as they explain their general horror-movie nerdery and the much references paying homage to other works in the film.
Outside of the excellent commentary, The Guest boasts an alternative opening (which was rightfully ditched), deleted scenes, and an all-too brief Q&A with Dan Stevens. The chat with Stevens is the best feature and should have been MUCH longer. You’ll see why when you get into it; very interesting Filmmaker 101 stuff. While some audiences may not get the joke, The Guest comes highly recommended.
- Deleted Scenes (14 min)
- Q & A with Dan Stevens (2 min)