Dir. Adam Wingard
Following on from You’re Next and A Horrible Way to Die, The Guest is the latest genre-melding offering from director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. As with their previous collaborations, it fondly harks back to genre movies of yesteryear while slyly subverting tropes and conventions audiences are now all too familiar with. All bets are off as rules are bent, expectations toyed with, and the viewer is sucked into Barrett’s twisted and twisting story, which emerges as one of the most interesting - and entertaining - genre offerings of recent years.
The Guest begins as David (Dan Stevens), a recently discharged soldier, arrives at the home of a family still grieving for the death of their son, whom he claims to have been good friends with. David is too good to be true and represents something for everyone in the family, filling the role of their absent son. Only daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) is wary, but she fails to find anything to support her suspicious that he isn’t who he claims to be. Until it’s too late…
The Guest treads many fine lines and at several points threatens to dissolve into ridiculousness, but thanks to Wingard’s assured direction, Barrett’s lean, mean, darkly humorous script and pitch-perfect performances from the cast, it just about manages to stay on the right side and keep everything together; particularly towards the end, when some major gear changes occur. As the titular character, Dan Stevens is nothing short of mesmerising. From the moment he appears onscreen he effortlessly commands attention, and throughout the course of the tightly wound story he goes from being utterly charming to violently menacing in a single, fluttering heartbeat; his subtly nuanced performance and Barrett’s riveting screenplay taunt and tease with regards to his character’s mysterious agenda. At times it seems the story will take a ‘Cuckoo-in-the-nest’ turn, a la The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, The Stepfather and Pacific Heights etc., in which a psychotic stranger infiltrates and gradually picks apart a typical all-American family from within their own home, while the queasily tense opening scene hints at a home invasion narrative. The Guest isn’t that predictable though, and eventually takes a few very unexpected turns, ultimately revealing itself to be an irresistible blend of Halloween and The Terminator, with elements of The Bourne Identity and The Manchurian Candidate thrown into the mix.
A throbbing 80s-electro score pulsates throughout, not only providing the film with a strangely vintage feel, but enhancing the tension and calling to mind the similar-in-tone work of John Carpenter. Speaking of John Carpenter, there are various visual references to the Halloween series (particularly parts III and IV) throughout the production design.