The Guest

UK Release Date 5th September 2014
Director Adam Wingard
Starring Dan Stevens' Eyes
Runtime 99 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 15th September 2014

The ghost of John Carpenter has been around a lot lately. Fittingly of course, the man himself is not dead, only slumbering after a string of questionable movie decisions. Still, his impact on modern cinema remains undiminished and can be seen in any number of synth heavy horror / thrillers doing the rounds at the moment. On the whole this is making us happy. Small caveat to this review before we crack on; we pride ourselves on our thoughtful honesty here at BS Towers so in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that my enjoyment of this movie may have been affected by the four pints I drank before it and the £6 ($9.74 at the time of writing) of sweets I’d almost finished eating during the trailers. To my mind, this is the absolute peak way to enjoy this film. I stand by that on recent notice that our Cult writer labelled this one as ‘looks intriguing’ and when you’re on the same page as him, something is definitely off kilter in the universe…..

I’ve made a big play on a number of occasions of complaining about a trailer that has completely over-sold a movie to the point where the movie I watched bore very little resemblance to the trailer. In this instance, I’d say that’s partly true but for once, I’m very glad it is. I’d mentally written off Adam Wingard’s latest, The Guest, as a run of the mill sinister stranger tearing a family apart for nefarious reasons (usually revenge or a steaming hot daughter) thriller. This I put down mostly to the trailer. Check it out below if you doubt me, looks pretty ho-hum doesn't it. By now you’ve probably guessed it’s anything but….

If you head back to our review from last year, we were big fans of Wingard’s You’re Next, praising it  for being smart, funny and for Sharni Vinson's excellent performance as the girl you really, really don’t want to fuck with. Here Wingard plays a similar game. Where previously we had a tetchy family reunion, usurped by armed invaders, who soon find themselves at the hands of a vicious heroine, here we have a slightly creepy stranger, imposing himself on a family who innocently take him in, only for things to then go very, very strange. To reveal too much of what the stranger does would be to take some of the sting out of the fun so I’ll leave that there but suffice to say, this isn't the movie it starts out as.

As the titular guest David, Dan Stevens (previously best known to everybody but me as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, and to me as absolutely nobody) absolutely makes the movie. Good looking to the point of completely unfair, his bright blue eyes burn through every scene he is in, projecting both a folksy comfort and a deep horrible menace. Adopting a pretty successful American accent, the boy from Croydon could not be more perfect for the part. From his first arrival on Laura Peterson’s doorstep, announcing rather vaguely that he knew her son (who died in combat) and made a promise to him to look in on them, he oozes into the family without initially looking overly suspicious. 

The family are less well fleshed out but in this brisk 99 minute ride, they aren’t really required to be. Mother Laura (Sheila Kelley) is homely and welcoming to the stranger, father Spencer (Leland Orser) barely seems to notice the newcomer, brother Luke (Brendan Meyer) is pretty quiet and sister Anna (Maika Monroe) is a stroppy teenager. Only the latter seems to notice anything odd about the stranger and makes a fateful call to his old base in an attempt to establish some back story for David. The call lands on the desk of Major Carver (a very tall, stern Lance Reddick) and what he reveals to Anna instantly sends the movie off in a completely different direction.

I’m not claiming for a minute that The Guest is a perfect movie, there are a number of unanswered questions, some barely stuck together plot strands and a number of elements that don’t quite add up but I found myself not even wanting to consider any of that.

Wingard clearly isn’t a man that has any need to stick to a genre storyline and the movie is all the better for it. Throwing on an awesome eighties synth score from Steve Moore and ladling on some pretty gruesome but nonetheless slickly funny violence, Wingard has a whale of a time gleefully subverting our expectations. Stevens is magnificently malevolent in the lead role and the whole twisted thing is brilliantly summed up by one character’s exclamation in what must be the most fitting last line for a movie I’ve heard in a long time: “What the fuck?!” Which was exactly where I’d got to by that point. Exciting, twisted, darkly funny, surprising and exactly the right length, this is what 10pm showings on Friday evenings were made for. Now finish that pint, stack up the sweets and sit back….

Check out the trailer here.

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