Guest, The (2014)

The Guest (2014)Starring Dan Stevens, Ethan Embry, Maika Monroe, Joel David Moore, Lance Reddick

Directed by Adam Wingard

Director Adam Wingard seems to go from strength to strength with each of his filmmaking efforts, and this is undoubtedly true with his most recent output, The Guest – a wonderful mix of horror, suspense, dark comedy and action that easily ranks as his best work yet.

Still reeling from the death of their eldest son, who was killed while serving with the military in Iraq, the grieving Peterson family are visited out of the blue by an enigmatic stranger by the name of David (Stevens). David claims to have been a good friend of their son, Caleb, whose unit he also served in. Now relieved of his military duty, David has set off to find his friend’s family in order to make good on a promise he made to his fallen comrade: that he would deliver to them a message of love from their son, and make sure that they were all getting by just fine in their lives.

Enamoured with David’s kind, polite demeanour and wealth of stories about Caleb’s activities abroad, the Petersons wind up inviting him to stay with them for an extended period rather than wandering around looking for work and lodgings. He politely accepts and begins inserting himself helpfully into various facets of each family member’s existence in order to improve their lives – be that job or relationship advice, or teaching the meek younger son how to defend himself against school bullies.

David does, of course, harbour a dark secret – and this is not just a case of PTSD that the Petersons and, in time, the entire town and wider reaching authorities are going to have to deal with! How The Guest handles the gradual unfolding of this secret is just part of what makes it so wildly successful. Writer Simon Barrett brings the story alive with a gamut of well realised and sympathetic characters for David to get involved with, while Wingard’s cast bring them all to life with aplomb. The underrated Leland Orser is simply great as the downtrodden, borderline alcoholic father stuck in a rut at work, while Maika Monroe breathes life into the rebellious daughter seemingly stuck in the ’80s style that Wingard’s work tends to long for a return to.

The absolute star of the show, however, is Dan Stevens, who utterly owns the role of David. An alternate title for The Guest, given the central mystery, could easily be ‘There’s Something About David’, and the same is true for Stevens’ turn as the character – the guy is an audience magnet, exuding a sly charisma and alluring presence in every scene that hints of brooding threat, and yet a dogged determination to do right by his friend’s family. From his first scene David is a hand grenade, the pin already pulled; you just know that at some point it’s going to be dropped. The only hope is that when it is, he’ll still remain firmly on the family’s side. Whether that happens, you’ll just have to watch the film to find out.

When it all goes off, Wingard shifts gear into full-on action flick for a scene which marks perhaps the weakest element of the film, but manages to keep it together despite the odds by that distinctly ’80s exploitation feel. Soon after, again, The Guest briefly shifts closer to slasher territory during a magnificently stylish Halloween attraction finale married superbly to a brilliantly fitting electro soundtrack. This perhaps epitomises what exactly makes The Guest such a success: Here is a marriage of a wild variety of various elements – horror, suspense, threat, genuine humour, bone-crunching violence and explosive action – that by all rights should simply fall apart but somehow comes together to create a film that consistently entertains while leaving absolutely no doubt whatsoever of the talent of those both in front of and behind the camera. Sure, the plot may occasionally threaten to implode as events tug at the edge of credulity, but the whole thing is just so damned ballsy, captivating and recklessly thrilling that there’s little more to do than just enjoy. And enjoy it you shall.

4 1/2 out of 5

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Debi Moore

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