Director, Adam Wingard has a flare for bringing together horror, psychological thriller and humour, but humour that makes the audience feel like right idiots for ever being scared in the first place. That being said, his previous feature, You’re Next was an outright blood bath, culminating in a brilliant twist that proved that families really can be murder. Most recently, Wingard has returned with writer, Simon Barrett (who also worked on You’re Next as well as Wingard’s recent short films on The ABCs of Death and V/H/S) to illicit some retro 80’s feel with the tense, twisty and incredibly stylish The Guest.
Starring an extremely buffed up Dan Stevens (yes, him from Downton Abbey) as the mysterious David, an army vet who visits the Peterson family. Having walked however many miles from the train station to their house just because he fancied the exercise, the door is opened by mother Laura (Sheila Kelley) who is instantly shocked and overjoyed that someone from her son’s past has turned up. Soon the audience learn that Laura’s son had died in action and David was a close friend of his, they trained together and he points to a picture of himself on the families mantle piece.
Instantly the family become excited about the appearance of this mystery man, he seems to be able to do no wrong and he helps each member of the family in his own special way. The younger son, Luke (Brendan Meyer), who has been having problems with bullies at school and not knowing how to look after himself particularly takes a shine to David who tells him to burn the house down of anyone that tries to hurt him… because that is a rational response. It’s daughter, Anna (the brilliant Maika Monroe) who actually suspects that David may not be who he says he is and it is only after calling an army office and being told that David is actually dead that the mystery begins.
A wild chase starts when Major Carver (Lance Reddick) travels across the country to the small town in the middle of nowhere that this David is currently terrorising but it’s only when the death count starts to mount up that people start to suspect anything could be wrong.
Wingard steps his game up with The Guest, everything from the story, to the location, the actors themselves and the style of the film show that he has grown as a filmmaker and is due to become a master of his craft. As horror is such an immense genre that really can talk about so many different things, The Guest explores a type of horror that is much more intense and claustrophobic than monsters and aliens. Think the power of The Hitcher or the first Saw film – when someone isn’t necessarily who they say they are, anything really could happen.
One of the greatest elements of The Guest is the incredible work that has gone into making the film feel like the 80s. Everything from the design of the film, the clothes the characters wear, the cars they drive and the music they listen to screams retro and vintage. The music in particular sticks with the audience long after watching, recalling a wonderful mix of synths and electronica. It is not only the music but also the shocks out of nowhere of the violence, that make the The Guest look like a worthy companion piece to Drive and the work of Nicolas Winding Refn. The violence, as was the case with Drive, is beautiful and thrilling. It doesn’t feel gratuitous and instead aids the audience in learning about David. It jumps out at the audience rather than building towards it and Dan Stevens certainly does his best to remind audience of Ryan Gosling’s performance in those moments.
But Stevens does a different job from Gosling, whereas the latter spent most of Drive looking moodily into the distance and saying very little, Stevens grins throughout The Guest. He doesn’t want to hurt those around him but he already knows that most people are going to be killed by the end of the film. He is chatty and enjoyable to be around and that makes him fun for the audience as well. He does a great job at being charismatic and thrilling, balancing the humour of the horror brilliantly.
The Guest is really entertaining and necessary for those who love the horror genre and as David crawls under the skin of the viewer, they are hooked until the very last shot.