“The Guest” is the highly anticipated new film from director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) and best friend/writer Simon Barrett. Although The Guest didn’t have the three-year viral build up and promotion that “You’re Next” had, it was still followed intently by most through the independent film festival circuit in which it had a very successful run. The Guest is about David (Dan Stevens), a solider that introduces himself to the Peterson family claiming he knew and fought with their recently deceased son and brother. David is welcomed into the home by parents Laura and Spencer, where he befriends their son Luke (Brendan Meyer) and daughter Anna (played by the gorgeous Maika Monroe). Things become increasingly odd when accidents start happening to people in each of the family members lives. The film also stars Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick and Joel David Moore.
Adam has earnt himself quiet a reputation amongst actors and other filmmakers for his body of work thus far. Drawing some really good talent into this film proves he is definitely going places. You’re Next is one of the best home invasion slasher films and with the success of that film, Does this one live up to the expectation?, Let’s see how The Guest fares.
Wingard and Barrett as a team, work a constant back and forth when writing characters and whatever screenplay they happen to be working on. Regardless of if you like their films or not you have to admire the effort these guys put in considering they are not working with huge budgets and always doing the hard yards. The camera work in The Guest is awesome, things always seem shot from David’s point of view without actually using POV shots. It’s really clever, we get a lot of close shots framing his face and the focus is on his intensity, really shaping the tone of the entire film. Lovely Steadicam shots are used and the overall color grading of the film is outstanding. The colors are so rich and bring the environment to life especially in the last act. The school auditorium colors and lighting look as gorgeous as anything in Nicholas Refn’s “Only God Forgives” and I dug that. That final sequence had the best scenes.
Let’s talk about Dan Stevens for a minute. I’ve never seen an episode of “Downton Abbey” so I can’t judge him based on that. I did however see him in “A Walk Among The Tombstones”, an incredibly dull film in which he was the surprise packet. A dead ringer for actor Cam Gigandet, Dan owns this role from start to finish. He is so calm, controlled and charismatic, yet something simmers under the surface of that warm exterior and you’re just waiting for him to blow up. His intensity in this is every bit as good as Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler”, you just don’t hear about it. I thought both Brendan and Maika were really solid too. Maika looked lovely and she had a real sass about her that made Anna really likeable. Part rebel, part emo with a little hipster but a great character that you want to root for. The rest of the cast do their part but the only real stand out moment was Sheila in a few more of her emotional scenes, which grounded an otherwise annoying character. Her voice got on my nerves, it wasn’t anything she did just the way she spoke.
I’m leaving the best until last and the best of The Guest (pardon the rhyme haha) is most definitely the soundtrack, which must have been inspired by some of Refn’s work (Drive and Only God Forgives). This is hands down the best electro score and soundtrack I have heard in the last 10 years (minus the aforementioned films). It really set up the crime/slasher aspect of the film, it’s not something you can pass of as original but more a nod to the era this type of sound started in. The compounding intensity of the sound effect volume really elevated it.
There is a lot of great stuff about The Guest, hence why it has been labelled one of the best films of the year, sadly I can’t agree with that assessment though. I already mentioned the grating mother of the family who will get on your nerves pretty quickly. Her character really wasn’t explored, I’m guessing the reason for that was that she was busy drowning in her sorrows over her deceased son and that was enough. Father, Spencer had no bearing on anything that really happened either. He didn’t seem torn up about the death of his son but more interested in beating out a competitor for a promotion at work. He changes his tune very quickly from the mindset of wanting nothing to do with David and having some reservations about letting him into their lives than no sooner defend him when arguments ensue between him and Anna. Bonding over beers but there was no evidence to give us an idea of why he changed his mind so suddenly. Were we supposed to believe David had something to do with his promotion??, if he did it’s news to me and Spencer wouldn’t know that.
The fact that the family accepts him right off the bat and who he says he is and how he knew their son seems like a stretch. If this was the guy that was there when you’re son died, you would want to know what he last said, what he was thinking, you would want as much information as possible. David gives some typical response like “he said he loved you all”. That doesn’t prove a damn thing. You would be asking questions to see if this guy really knew who your son was, especially in this day and age. They didn’t need to be specific but the fact remains, not a single person inquired about the son and that’s just not realistic. The script has the usual trappings, daughter becomes weary of David’s behavior and starts to think maybe he isn’t who he says he is so the investigating starts and was actually done pretty well and quiet subtle. What was not subtle was Luke telling David about Anna’s suspicions of him, I mean (duh). I understand at that point Luke felt like the two had a friendship, but it’s not like he hadn’t been a little taken a back by some of David’s reactions to little things. What did he possibly have to gain from telling him?, it made zero sense.
The Guest’s biggest issue is that you know without a doubt from the opening frame this guy isn’t who he says he is, and therefore it’s going to hurt the potential for layers within the film. Mystery is key in something like this, otherwise there is nothing to separate it from the countless other by the book thrillers being released every year. Not only is it predictable but making matters worse is the reasoning for David’s strange behavior. I don’t want to spoil it but I feel like I should. Let’s just say it’s kind of a cop-out and a very convenient explanation for his strange psyche. We are never privy to an existential struggle nor do we get any real insight into an internal psychological reasoning. A scene simply incorporating a battle of the mind would have been enough to avoid questions being asked at the end, I immediately just think of “The Manchurian Candidate” when I think of this plot point.
In my mind The Guest was probably never going to live up to Adam’s last film. I had high hopes for it and no doubt I was still entertained. There were aspects about it I loved but the predictability and convenience of certain plot revelations held it back by a long shot from making it into the best films of the year. The action and final scenes helped the momentum but An unbelievable soundtrack, Gorgeous Maika Monroe and a stand out performance from Dan Stevens just aren’t enough to really hit the spot.
My rating for “The Guest” is 6/10