What’s it About?
A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. But soon it appears he is not who he claims to be.
Directed by Adam Wingard
Director, Editor and Cinematographer Adam Wingard (You’re Next, VHS and VHS 2) once again provides an entertaining retro shocker and thriller with a self aware vibe in his latest film, “The Guest.” It is a suspenseful outing with a twisty and Hitchcockian flavor that never gets too self absorbed and overly-morose in it’s ability to tell a straight-forward narrative. First off, it isn’t a found footage film (sorry, but I have had my fill for 2014) and it gets positive marks just for that.
What “The Guest” is, is a capable, quirky and tight little film with lofty ambitions. It may stumble with unforseen action convention in it’s third act, but it rights itself with giddy John Carpenter-esque aplomb and traditon. It is definitely an trippy 80’s homage to Carpenter’s style with some Hitchcock peppered in for good measure. As a matter of fact, you Hitch afficianados out there will most likely be reminded of “Shadow of a Doubt” more than once, through-out.
Steely blue eyed Dan Stevens, from “Downton Abbey,” stars as “David,” an Army Vet who returns back to the States. Wingard’s film starts off with a unique but weird jogging sequence that eventually bursts into the title card establishing mood right out of the gate. “David” appears, without notice at the doorstep of the estranged family of a fallen Soldier named Caleb. Caleb’s Mother, Laura (Sheila Kelley), while still mourning, it quite receptive of David as he claims that he wanted to share and express Caleb’s last wishes to the Peterson clan. Leland Orser (Escape from LA) plays Dad, Spencer (Who at any given time feels the need to have a drink) who is not immediately as warm to David but soon turns around. Then there is the youngest son, Luke (Brendan Meyer of Girl vs Monster) who is a closed in, inward and introspective kid with bullying issues.
Outwardly, David is the proverbial young and polite ex-soldier to the family, especially Laura, who insists that David stay with them until he gets on his feet. (Eventually, Spencer urges him to stay even longer in a comical drinking scene which allows Orser to flex his acting muscles). Apparently, all they needed was his say so and he is already let in their home and immediately trusted as a close friend of their deceased family member. Go figure.
But, as gracious, courteous and amiable David seems to appear, the oldest Peterson child, Anna (Maika Monroe of The Bling Ring), is not too convinced of David’s intentions. She does, in due course, get more comfortable with David around but only after he begins to exhibit “bad boy” tendecies whenever they go out. Even Luke, with his confidence and social problems, gets close to David when he helps Luke confront his school bullies in a chilling and un-nerving bar scene which finds David showing outright violent behaviors. But, Luke, spontaneously takes to David even more after the display. He even begins to carry a deadly knife that David bequeths to him as a gift.
David, while ingratiating himself to the Petersons also has that dark side that appears whenever the Peterson’s encounter a problem or some sort of distress (David’s mysterious reach even goes as far as Spencer’s employer troubles). He becomes a sort of dark protector. But in a solid move by Wingard, cracks begin to show up and the story begins to move at a breakneck pace. Simon Barrett, who penned Wingard’s previous movie, “You’re Next,” taps, with comfortable and appealing flair, into the angst of the Peterson children. Wingard and Barrett deftly manipulate the story, so that we cheer on David in some scenes, but then begin to fear what he can truly do to them if crossed.
By the third act, once bodies begin to pile up and Anna begins to suspect and distrust David (He never even shows them any ID nor do they ever ask) over his actions and background, things get fully blown nuts. The movie tonally shifts into a shadowy action vehicle where actor Lance Reddick (Fringe) steps in as a Miltary Police Agent who knows what David really is and is determined to help the Petersons.
The movie, at this point is really aware of what it is and once the bloodletting really begins the film takes on a 80’s early 90’s action absurdity, but man, it is fun to watch. The movie never fails to be consistent and visually rapid. Wingard hits traditional highs with the material and when it is reminiscent, it is never mired in parody or self importance.
Stevens, Wingard and Barrett provide a nice little diversion that raises the bar for low budget indie shockers with a clear and good looking film. A fitting tribute to successful films where we have a trusted person evolve (or devolve) into a sadistic figure that leaves death and misery in their wake. The great electronic score by Steve Moore is hip, funky and implicative of the best scores from John Carpenter’s heyday. (Keep an eye out for a Halloween III: Season of the Witch reference).
For a truly wicked and smart time, “The Guest” does indeed deliver. It has a spunky and bloody nostalgic feel with enough of that old school suspense interior to make it a great Saturday night watch. It has mood, mayhem, cool music, nifty exchanges, bar fights and a Halloween maze to boot! You can’t go wrong if you want Dan Stevens to both charm and scare the shit out of you with just a ferrous and unyeilding stare. Very recommended!
Very nice write-up!
Thank you very kindly, Keith! Means a lot man 🙂 This one was a breeze to write. Some reviews just come to you easily and it is great to pound them out when they do.
I feel really productive of late and it’s awesome to be back to writing on a regular basis. It is always great to hear from you, Keith and thanks for checking in and the nice feedback!
Its been great seeing you back. Sometimes you just need a little to to refresh.
So true, man! I’ve learned that I don’t need to keep up with the Joneses every time. It feels good to write on my own time and my own terms so that it stays fun and fresh and feels like less of a chore.
I appreciate the support, Keith! I’ll be sure to catch up on your page this week! Stay in touch 🙂
Great review, I’m definitely interested in checking out this movie now. 🙂
The Guest is pretty zany and off the wall. It’s a lot of fun, too. It has a pretty wicked sense of humor, while being quite suspenseful in parts.
I think you’ll totally get it and enjoy the madness. Let me know your thoughts when you can!
I appreciate you stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the review!
Nice write up man! I agree with everything you said, especially regarding the third act and the retro soundtrack and look. The last act, with all those reds… am I crazy for being reminded of Suspiria?
And Dan Stevens. Goddamn he was able to captivate just with his eye movements. A great piece of acting!
Isn’t that last act insane! I didn’t even think of Suspiria with the reds towards the end in the maze scene. Good catch!
And yeah, every time Stevens glared at the screen, I got goose bumps. He can definitely chill right to the bone. Hope he doesn’t get typecast, lol.
Thanks for the great feedback and I am glad you enjoyed the review, Jordan. Also, I appreciate the follow 🙂
Great review. Loved this film maybe a little too much haha 😀
Yeah, me too! Totally get you there, Tim. I was rooting for all of David’s shenanigans all the way up till the third act when I realized that this guy was a nutter pure and simple 🙂
Thanks for checking in, like always, it is great to hear from you, man! Glad you liked the review!
Haha yeah same here. Oh I really like this guy, then oh no. I think its the pumpkin carving scene, he goes real dark real quick 😀
I really want to see this, but it’s on the long list. A fine write up; you’ve made me push this up that list!
Glad you liked the review! Happy to hear that you are moving this one up a bit. It is pretty off the wall and very entertaining. I think that you will really enjoy the hi-jinks. Wingard is slowly making a pretty good name for himself with these retro thrillers.
Thanks for checking in! 🙂
Good review! I haven’t heard of this film but will definitely have to seek it out. Sounds pretty good.
Been hearing that The Guest is a lot of fun and really intense. One day I’ll be able to get my mitts on this thing! 🙂 Good review here Vic.
If you watch this and write up a negative review…I’ll fight you.
[…] Vic’s Review – “The Guest (2014)” – Vic’s Movie Den. This is the review that made me want to watch this movie. […]
By far one of my favorite movies of 2014! Such an excellent flick that truly captures the essence of 80’s action and horror flicks one slick package. Slick in every possible too. You got Stevens for the ladies. Mia for the men! Visually stunning atmosphere!