Monday, 5 January 2015

Review: The Guest

Year: 2014
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenplay: Simon Barrett
Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick

Synopsis is here

The Guest tackles a plot element in a similar way to Looper in which, when a character actually tries to boil down the barmy reasoning behind his being. They go against informing us the tricky, sticky details because it's "complicated". I was already beaming like a Cheshire cat at this point. I enjoy when films hit that right balance of self-awareness. It doesn't take you out of the film, but playfully jabs you about what you're watching. The Guest is full of moments like that. The film's final line, delightfully alludes to a certain 80's movie its makers clearly loved, yet still manages to sum up the WTF of the film. It works on two separate levels for two different viewers, and it's nice to see. Even when gussied up in an irrelevant retro thriller.

We first spot David (Dan Stevens) jogging down a deserted highway, army bag in tow, regulated breathing. He looks to be in training, or possibly running from something. The Guest lets us know soon enough, as David appears at the front door of the Petersons. David informs the family that he was an army buddy their deceased son Celeb, and he is welcomed in to stay a while has he sets some things straight. The thing is, while his blue eyes pop and he grins his warm smile, something always seems off with David.

Dan Stevens who plays the titular Guest of the film has one of those wonderful middle distance glares that he mixes with his handsome features, which makes everything about his performance in the early stages appear even more off kilter. Originally of Downton Abbey fame, this is the type of display that allows an actor to let loose and Stevens has a lot of fun here. From the aw shucks, southern accent, to the chance to show off his physique through sexually objectifying himself and hilariously gratuitous violence, Stevens not only gets into the trashy tone of the feature, but grabs at it with wide open arms.

It says a lot about a director like Adam Wingard to find the right actor to play this absurd, yet entertaining role. Taking Stevens away from what many know him for (stuffy, middle class period drama) and plunging him fully into the lead of a film that runs fast and loose with subverting politically correctness and joyously uses the likes of The Stepfather (1987) as a point of reference. Then again, as the writer/director of the highly enjoyable You're Next (2011), I should have expected as such.

Once again, Wingard delivers an inverted home invasion, in which the things you fear, are a lot closer to home than you would first expect. The film's wacky military sub-plot is outrageous in any serious consideration, but still manages to place the idea that the current military conflicts have sent back distant and dangerous young men who have been irrecoverably changed. Furthermore, the thing that they're most likely to disrupt first, is of course the good ol' American family. A unit who seems all too happy to welcome and believe unknown authority figures over their own members.

The snyth score and bold colour schemes are quick to notify you of just how much Wingard loved a certain type of 80's horror/thriller. Yet The Guest never loses itself in its homage and self-awareness. It's more of a straight up thriller in comparison to the similarly set Cold in July (2014), but never gets bogged down in its influences, unlike Ti West's The Sacrament (2013). The Guest shows Wingard growing in confidence as a genre director, the films brilliantly staged Halloween dance finale was perhaps one of the scenes I found the most enjoyable of 2014. Once again showing a director like Wingard letting everything hang out and have fun without things becoming sloppy. But that's the great thing about Wingard and a film like The Guest, everything is so tightly controlled, even when it gets messy.