Last time director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett decided to toy with genre they delivered the homage-paying come genre pastiche brilliance that was You’re Next. For their next trick Wingard and Barrett gives us The Guest, a film that like their last effort allows them to dip into a dark subject they clearly revel in while always staying one step ahead of the audience in this wicked slice of horror thriller.
After their son is killed in the Middle East the Peterson family are surprised when one of his former brothers in arms David (Dan Stevens) arrives on their doorstep. Happy to have a friendly, helpful hand around the house again the family welcome him in. David helps son Luke (Brendan Meyer) out at school with his bullying problems while daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) cannot help but be slightly enamoured by David’s charm. But David holds a dark secret and when it turns out he is not exactly who he says he is the army are anxious to silence him.
Just as You’re Next was a full-on stand-off with the slasher-come-home-invasion genre so The Guest is an all-out assault on the one man army movies of the ’80s, with a bit of smart Sleeping With The Enemy like chills to boot. Imagine if you will Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, with a bit of a screw loose, coming to watch over a family in distress. Or even better a Jason Bourne with bigger psychological issues than just endearing old amnesia coming to stay and kicking seven shades out of anything that moves and you’re somewhere near to understanding The Guest. But not even close to comprehending the sheer mad gusto it has to offer.
You see, David is only a guardian angel to the Peterson family for as long as it serves his needs. Although guardian angel might be unrealistic, guardian devil is more apt. And it is here that Wingard and Barrett excel in misdirection. Because in reality we’re still firmly in ’80s psycho territory here. It’s as if Halloween had been told from the point of view of a bipolar Michael Myers. David is a blink and you’ll miss it, snap-your-neck with his little finger stone-cold killer who will stop at nothing to protect himself above all else and then flash you a Hollywood grin so perfect it will make you swoon.
Like You’re Next it pays lip-service to the genres it’s almost part of but never feels predictable and constantly dazzles with the laughs it never stops throwing at you. The Guest will delight horror fans and more specifically John Carpenter aficionados. With its electro soundtrack and devil-may-care attitude towards violence mixed with jet black comedy this is hands down one of the most delightfully dark films of the year.
That’s not to say it’s visually dark, far from it. Instead, as if to intentionally subvert things even further, Wingard elects to use a vibrant pallet with only the closing scene taking place in anything other than a Texan sunshine hew. And as if that wasn’t head spinning enough the climax takes place in a Halloween haunted house of horrors, because when things get this outrageous you have to go all-in on the madness front.
The performances are all solid but the film is made by two star-making turns. Maika Monroe oozes girl next-door sex appeal, her almost emo, always provocative wardrobe belying her more vulnerable side. She’s never a scream queen but emotes more than any last-girl-standing could hope for. But what makes The Guest is Dan Stevens. His David injects the perfect amount of menace combined with grace to make you love him and hate him all at once. In fact, so utterly charming is his shark-like smile and delivery it’s impossible not to fall in love with him, even when he’s making Norman Bates look like a pussy cat by comparison. It seems you can take the boy out of Downton Abbey but the poise of the upper class remains strong in Stevens and it’s this that makes David a genuinely brilliant anti-hero, or perhaps outright villain depending on your perspective.
Menacing, outrageously funny, chilling and bonkers beyond belief The Guest is one of the year’s most welcome additions and one that you hope will stay for breakfast, lunch and dinner.