Release Date: 6th September 2014
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelley, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick
The Peterson family are trying to move on after their oldest son Caleb was killed in Afghanistan. When a mysterious stranger named David turns up claiming to be an army buddy of Caleb’s, he is invited by the grieving mother to stay with them for a few days. This handsome and charming young man seems like the perfect house guest at first as he helps out with chores, bonds with dad Spencer and looks out for bullied teenage son Luke. However the longer he’s around, a darker, violent side to David begins to emerge. As the violence escalates and the bodies stack up, teenage daughter Anna tries to find out exactly who the man is living in her house, unwittingly bringing chaos to her town and making herself and her family targets.
Director Adam Wingard made a splash a couple of years ago with You’re Next, a smart update on the home invasion movie. With The Guest, Wingard continues in this vein by offering a savvy mash-up of ideas and stylistic cues picked from low budget 80s exploitation cinema. Supposedly inspired by Wingard and writer Simon Barrett watching The Terminator and Halloween back to back, this shares a similar tone to these classics, gleefully playing with tropes of the thriller, slasher and action movie genres.
Stylistically however, The Guest’s closest relative is actually 2011’s Drive. Much like LA in Nicolas Winding Refn’s film, the wide, expansive New Mexico location of The Guest is vibrant and colourful throughout the day and coated in a sheen of neon colours at night. Add in a pulsing electro score and a handsome but taciturn leading man (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens in a wonderfully steely performance) and the resemblance becomes more striking. Yet, where Drive stripped away a lot of its own genre trappings, essentially becoming a character study of an aloof and damaged central character; The Guest goes the other way by heaping idea upon idea, each one familiar from older movies like The Manchurian Candidate and Prom Night.
Stylish, cineliterate and fun; The Guest is a lean and effective thriller with a hugely entertaining central performance. It’s not the most original film out there, but it successfully manages to juggle a whole raft of ideas without ever becoming bogged down by them. However even if it’s never truly unsettling, there are some effectively staged set-pieces and heightened moments of suspense. If Adam Wingard keeps making films as good as The Guest then he’s certainly one to watch, and potentially a new auteur in the making.