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!