When I saw the first trailer for The Guest I wasn’t particularly interested in the film. It looked generic, bland, and seemed like yet another trite thriller that comes out around Halloween for a cheap buck. But like You’re Next (written and directed by the same duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett) last year, there’s more here than I initially gave it credit for.
You’re Next went on to become one of my favorite films of 2013, and now The Guest joins alongside as my favorite film of 2014 so far. It exceeded my expectations. Fantastic, thrilling, exquisite, nail biting, hilarious, captivating…
There simply aren’t enough buzzwords to capture how much I loved The Guest.
Director: Adam Wingard
Release Date: September 17, 2014 (limited)
Coping with the loss of their son/brother in the war, the Peterson family is as broken as you’d expect. One day a handsome man named David (Dan Stevens), claiming to be a friend of their lost son, ends up staying the night at their place trading stories of the war. After a few days, a string of mysterious deaths plague the town and Anna (Maika Monroe) believes David is the cause of all of it. The Guest, by and large, sounds like a run of the mill thriller. But the best thing about the film is how it knows this, but just doesn’t care.
By exploiting the typical nature of its premise, The Guest plays with its tone. At many times, I found myself laughing at inappropriate moments because of how expertly they were staged. From little shrugs and stares, to how increasingly violent the film gets, it’s all balanced in a way that’s never overbearing one way or the other. It’d be too far of a reach to say there’s “trashy” fun (as the film is pretty damn smart), but there’s definitely a love crafted into the film’s horror. And it’s not even a horror film! It’s a peculiar action/spy thriller with a violent bent.
I’m going to try and avoid spoiling the “reveal” of David’s true intentions, but unlike You’re Next (which has a particular shift in tone that’s much better if it’s a surprise), there’s no hiding David’s sinister motives. That’s where the fun mentioned earlier lies. There’s never any attempt to pretend The Guest is something it’s not. The switch is always turned to eleven, and the whole film is really just waiting for the hammer to drop. Much of the film’s fun is attributed to Dan Stevens’ great turn as the titular guest. He’s basically a guy you’d let into your home if he asked (charming, gorgeous, and complete with a southern drawl), but he’s threatening when he turns it on. For example early bits of the film feature David ominously staring off into the distance, and coupled with the film’s great soundtrack, it all just works. Hilariously enough, Stevens is so damn charming, it’s hard not to side with him toward the finale. He’s just so lovable at that point (and that’s where the film mines humor too!)
The Guest is the good kind of nostalgic. It hearkens back to a simpler time when horror/thriller films were more about the experience than the jump scares. By skimming its plot to the bare essentials, the film is allowed to focus on getting the atmosphere right. Everything in The Guest is full of lovingly placed little details. The characters all have a memorable quirk (the father drinks, Anna has a kickass hairdo), the set pieces are full of nice foreshadowing details (one bar has a “No Fighting” sign before a big fight happens), and the soundtrack is flooded with fantastic, 70s horror synth pop tunes. In fact, the soundtrack does most of the heavy lifting as the finale uses it with hilarious results. Remember how good it was in You’re Next? It’s even better here.
Now The Guest isn’t perfect as much of the story’s plainness leads to a great deal of predictability, some of the acting is a bit rougher than I’d like, and I found myself wanting to start the action sooner for a bit in the middle, but ultimately, you’ve got to respect The Guest‘s intelligently crafted simplicity.
Whether it was appropriate or not, I had a huge smile on my face the entire time. It was the most fun at the movies I’ve had in some time. I’d definitely invite The Guest into my home.
In fact, I want to live with it forever.