The Guest Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Released by Picturehouse
Directed by Adam Wingard
Written by Simon Barrett
2014, 99 minutes, Rated R
Theatrical release on September 17th, 2014
Dan Stevens as David
Maika Monroe as Anna Peterson
Brendan Meyer as Luke Peterson
Sheila Kelley as Laura Peterson
Any time we hear that a noted horror filmmaker is taking a creative step away from our beloved genre, it’s easy for us to feel slighted as fans. It’s as if they’re breaking up with us and moving on to see what bigger, brighter opportunities lay out there for them in the land of cinema. Sometimes we cackle as they stumble (like Wes Craven with Music of the Heart). But sometimes, and I daresay more often than not, their true talents as entertainers will shine through in whatever they do. Sam Raimi hit it big with the first Spider Man trilogy, David Cronenberg moved on from his body horror roots to make movies like Eastern Promises and Cosmopolis, and the guy who gave us Bad Taste and Dead Alive is now a multi-Oscar winner (that’s Peter Jackson, for you noobs). Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are horror fans that make horror movies for horror fans, and their work in the V/H/S films as well as their own collaborations A Horrible Way to Die and You’re Next have made them indie horror darlings. Now that they’ve got a solid fanbase, they are foraying into new territory with The Guest. Not horror at all, the movie works as more of a campy thriller, even if it probably won’t prove to be their “breakout” film.
The Peterson family is visited by a mysterious but warm-hearted (and so handsome that most guys will hate him) stranger named David (Dan Stevens). Claiming to have served in the military with their recently deceased son, David is quickly welcomed into the home, and soon is helping mom Laura (Sheila Kelley) with chores, sharing beers with dad Spencer (the always-great Leland Orser), and protecting their geeky son Luke (Brendan Meyer, who looks distractingly like a young Patrick Fugit) from high school bullies. Interestingly, the only one not immediately charmed by David is teen daughter Anna (Maika Monroe). Soon enough after David’s arrival, though, a number of seemingly coincidental tragedies strike around the community, setting Anna off to prove that there’s something sinister about their new guest.
I’ve said it before about Adam Wingard, but he knows how to stock his movies with quality actors. Not saying anyone here is going to clean up at awards season, but for this type of movie the acting is miles better than one may expect going in. Seeing familiar genre faces like Joel David Moore (Hatchet), Chase Williamson (John Dies at the End), Ethan Embry (Cheap Thrills, Vacancy), and even a barely recognizable A.J. Bowen (You’re Next, The Sacrament) in brief supporting roles is a kick. But the one who carries the film on his shoulders like Atlas (or Adonis, that ripped, fresh-faced bastard) is Dan Stevens as the eponymous houseguest David. Showing again how Brits are somehow just naturally better at playing Americans than most American actors, Stevens oozes so much mysterious charm that you can’t help wishing you had a friend like him – even if you knew he might one day kill you.
As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a horror movie, and likely will not play out in any way that you’ll expect. Having said that, I wasn’t exactly blown away with the turns that the film takes. It gets violent, for sure, and racks up a respectable slasher-level body count (as well as a couple genre tropes, like shooting your attacker in the shoulder or leg instead of in the head). However, it ends up feeling more like a mildly cheesy, made-for-‘90s-television shoot ‘em up, complete with government cover-ups, Bourne Identity-type military experiments gone awry, and deafening protracted gun battles. I suspect that sort of throwback feel is what the filmmakers were going for, though, so I can at least acknowledge their success there.
While this probably won’t be Wingard and Barrett’s call to Hollywood glam and fortune (nor do I think they intended it to be), it’s definitely their most mainstream accessible movie to date. Despite not being totally bowled over by it, I’ll still say it’s almost constantly entertaining, and definitely worth a watch.