UK Release Date: September 05th, 2014
Running Time: 99 mins.
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett (Screenplay),
Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Sheila Kelley, Lance Reddick, Brendan Meyer, Leland Orser, Tabatha Shaun,
Mumblegore film You’re Next (2013) put director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett firmly on the map with its blend of classy visuals and genre-mixing as a family came under siege from brutal masked killers in a home invasion horror meets black comedy film. They do much the same here in The Guest, a film which feels like a take on 80s style thrillers complete with glorious synth soundtrack with an added dose of slasher horror.
The film starts with a shot of a man running down a desert road in military boots. The road is seemingly located in the middle of nowhere with nothing but scarecrows, Jack-o-lanterns, hay bales, and shoots of grass for features but this person has a specific destination in mind and he soon arrives on the doorstep of the Peterson family. The mother, Anna Peterson (Monroe), is home alone when he knocks on the door and she is taken by surprise.
He introduces himself as David (Stevens) and claims to have served with Anna’s eldest son Caleb who died in action. Anna still affected by grief, lets David in, eager to show hospitality to someone who was a friend of her son. Despite some suspicions about him the family soon fall under his spell as David proceeds to tell tales of their son while providing some form of support, filling in gaps left by Caleb’s loss. For the mother, he is a surrogate son, the father Spencer (Orser) finds a drinking buddy, and the younger son Luke (Meyer) finds someone who will protect him from bullies. Even the more independent, suspicious, and slightly rebellious twenty-something daughter Anna (Monroe) soon finds something alluring about this incredibly handsome stranger with piercing blue eyes. As time passes a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence and Anna finds herself questioning just who this guest in their house really is…
If most of the Peterson family are charmed by him, the audience will already be suspicious not least because that intro to the film primed us for some darker events.
When bodies start turning up there is no surprise as to who the killer is. Much like Michael Myers in Halloween, we know right from the start that it is David and we are waiting for him to go on a killing spree. However, The Guest spends time building up the suspense by showing David inveigling his way into the lives of the Peterson family and ‘dealing’ with their problems before unleashing murderous results.
David (a brilliantly charismatic Dan Stevens) is old-school charm and politeness, referring to people as “ma’am” and “sir”, helping out around the house with chores and providing a focal point as well as relief for a family hurting from their loss, trapped in small town America with nothing to do but grieve. With his smile as sweet as apple pie, his devastatingly handsome face and sculpted body, and piercing blue eyes, he is quick to work his physical magic on others and we see that behind every action and emotion he displays is precision engineered and well thought-out behaviour planned to influence others and further some plan he works on in secret.
All this friendship is seemingly uncomplicated and the characters take it. Just as the Peterson’s fall for him, so will members of the audience. Aware of this, the director always places a moment of menace behind the friendship which undercuts the bonhomie. The camera lingers on his glances and charming which turn into menacing stares, his smile disappearing as we see his brain working on some mad plot while the camera slowly zooms in as a rumble in the soundtrack builds up. His advice on how to deal with life’s problems starts off harmless but becomes extremely (and hilariously) violent as we see him apply military solutions. We know are watching a murderous madman and the film plays this up brilliantly.
He brutally and efficiently wipes out and humiliates the bullies, teenage boys and girls unable to withstand his psychological mind-games and military training which he imparts to Luke with advice on how to defend himself with hilarious tips and demonstrations. The father’s workplace rivalries are settled brutally. His military trained body is used to carry beer kegs to parties Anna’s friends throw and he seemingly innocently reveals that same body to young women, putting their out of shape men-folk to shame and ensuring he becomes a sex object for the ladies, not least Anna whose pothead boyfriend falls far short of her expectations. In small-town America with nothing going on, he is like a flash of lightning.
Like the best slasher films, the tension builds up. As Anna starts to dig into things the film introduces hints of present day real-world political tensions with the inclusion of defence contractors and the constant allusion to foreign wars but this is all subsumed into the films more earnest and fun final third when David’s past catches up with him, where the mask drops and David begins to hunt down various people. This leads to car chases, extended exciting gun fights, and an intense.
Like the best horror films, the build-up of characters and place creates intensity for events as Anna has to transform into something of a final girl. The carnage and battle is all the more satisfying because we have seen how efficient David is at working his way into the character’s lives, how he uses his deadly skills to solve every day problems, and how manipulative. The action is all the more unpredictable because we have to factor in how relationships come into his murderous rampage and which characters can survive. David is a psychotic killer with an almost supernatural physical presence that makes him even scarier, his charm still lingers and it is tempting to root for him as the film becomes blackly humorous with every kill he makes and every building and vehicle he destroys.
Actually, I think I came to wish I was just like David.
Overall the final third proves to be hugely satisfying as chaos ensues and people die in bigger and nastier explosions and gun battles. Dan Stevens puts in a fantastic performance as the devastatingly charming and deadly David which makes the film a compelling watch all the way from its early build up to the final third, an action-packed fun finale.