The Guest, 2014
Directed by Adam Wingard
Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brenden Meyer, Shelia Kelley, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick, Joel David Moore, Chase Williamson
A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence.
The Guest is like a modern day The Stepfather meets The Terminator in this heavily 80s inspired movie from the men behind You’re Next, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. It’s highly enjoyable and incredibly silly at times, with one of the most fun leading performances seen in a horror movie this year from Downtown Abbey star Dan Stevens. It rides the border of serious and fun with perfect aim and rarely falters.
Stevens plays David, a military man who has been discharged from the army and heads to the home of his deceased friend’s family, The Petersons. Still reeling from his death, the Petersons let him stay in their house and he begins to strike different friendships with each one of them. He’s polite, kind and very helpful around the house, but he also has a quiet violent side and, as daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) begins to dig deeper, David may not be the man he claims to be.
While the movie’s plot, script and action scenes are brilliant, The Guest might not be as good as it is without Dan Stevens’ performance. From the very moment he walks into the Petersons’ house right up until the thrilling climax, Stevens is in control of his character and he has this brilliantly robotic charm to every one of his lines so he can go from suave to dangerous in the blink of an eye. His connections with each of the family members is superb and Barrett’s script allows for each relationship to blossom for maximum impact when the final act rolls in. It’s a style of writing you don’t see in horror movies these days as most tend to take the easy route of writing horrible characters you want to see die. Barrett and Wingard instead of created a great family dynamic which draws you in with each and every scene. It harks back to a time where this sort filmmaking we prevalent with inspiration from the aforementioned The Stepfather and The Terminator, but also genre classics like Halloween and RoboCop with a beautiful 80s synth soundtrack.
Further praise should be given to Barrett’s script for how ingeniously subtle it can be. In the hands of lesser writers and filmmakers, we would see all of David’s actions on screen to full gory effect, but instead we take an almost family-level view of his time in their house.
This also comes into play with one of the movie’s biggest strengths – its sense of humour. One of the biggest problem with You’re Next was that it added moments of levity to scenes that didn’t require or need it, which often detracted from any potential scares or fear. With The Guest, Wingard and Barrett aren’t trying to scare or unnerve their audience so they can play loose and fancy free with slightly lighter moments of fun. Because of this, The Guest is a roaringly funny at times with perfect comic timing from all of its cast members, particularly Stevens. He has a natural comedic performance and can flick the switch from funny to sinister at the drop of a hat. It’s truly mesmerising.
There really is very little in the way of negative to say about The Guest because it’s succeeds in everything it’s trying to accomplish. However, there are a few story issues, particularly the threads leading into the final act, that are underdeveloped. Barrett’s script does such a great job of hinting at the work that David does off camera, but there a few issues with backstory and execution of it. It doesn’t do enough damage to hurt the film as a whole, but they are noticeable.
Few filmmakers could pull off a movie like The Guest and do it this well, but Wingard and Barrett have knocked it out of the park. With a performance like this, Dan Stevens could solidify himself as a horror-favourite and he should really be getting a lot of work elsewhere too. The rest of the cast are also brilliant and are supported by a great script and pinpoint directing. The Guest is not just one of the best movies of FrightFest, but it could be one of the best movies of the year.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.