Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Joel David Moore, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick
UK Release Date: 5th September 2014
From Adam Wingard, one of the directors of the not so great ‘VHS’ and the probably even worse ‘VHS 2’ comes his latest effort after last year’s surprisingly good and gruesomely brilliant ‘You’re Next’ (a worthy addition to the ‘home invasion’ horror subgenre) to which can only be categorised as a ‘home invasion horror comedy slasher thriller’. And you know what? Its just a bit bloody good! Good as in ‘Hollywood should sit up suddenly and take serious note’ kind of good.
Being the first movie to open up this year’s FrightFest film festival in August, I can only imagine what the atmosphere must have been like screening this at such a prestigious film festival still going strong in its 15th year.
David (Dan Stevens) a soldier recently discharged from serving in Afghanistan, turns up unexpectantly at the home of the Peterson family. After claiming to Laura, (Sheila Kelley) the grieving mother, he was best army buddies with her son Caleb right up until his death; he’s more or less welcomed into their home straight away. Now an invited house guest, he plays the part of a ‘real gentleman’ worming his way into the hearts of the family members. He solemnly tells Laura that he intends to fulfill a promise made to her deceased son that he would stick close by and keep an eye over his family which she embraces with open arms, he becomes best buddies with the father, Spencer (Leland Orser) after a few beers and hearing him out about the stressload of his job and quickly earns the admiration of troubled son Luke when making a lesson of his bullies.
Its daughter Anna who sees past the ‘nice guy’ image, highly aroused by suspicion that he may not be quite what he seems. And as the death toll mounts up since his abrupt arrival, it turns out she might be right….
I’ve not seen any of Downton Abbey or anything from Dan Stevens so had no idea how versatile of an actor he is. I needn’t have worried as he was absolutely fantastic, playing a character who was incredibly charming and likeable on the outside but a deadly ticking time bomb on the inside, ready to explode at any given second.
We also get glimpses every now and again into his true persona whenever the occasion calls for it. Whether thats looking into the camera with an icy cold stare thats enough to make your skin crawl or glancing at another character with a smile thats more borderline creepy than friendly. It’s just such a remarkably well sustained performance – full of such confidence and charisma concealing a dark undertone thats itching to come alive.
I honestly think the real credit goes to Wingard. Here is a fine example of a young horror film maker who clearly knows his shit in this genre. Set out to make a 70s/80s throwback horror slasher or b-movie or exploitation film (whatever you want to call it) thats as every bit as close to anything golden John Carpenter ever did back in his glory days as a supreme horror master really does tell you something. And boy does he deliver!
Drawing much inspiration from the likes of Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing and They Live, Wingard succeeds where Ti West clearly didn’t with The House of The Devil (another 80s style horror) that came off as boring and unoriginal.
Thats not to say that The Guest was original. Its just that Wingard was able to pull it off with such technical and skillful panache behind the camera along with writer Simon Barrett in striking the right balance of action and gore combined with a great dose of dark comedy, cheesiness and suprises that makes it feel like you’ve actually been transported back to the 80s when watching it. It helps thats its very old school too – no cgi, no greenscreen. Just good old fashioned film making back when horror used to be good (and scary) with its startling opening sequence and its own unigue visual flair complete with an end climax thats sure to make any hardcore horror fan leave the cinema complex with a big, fat grin.