I can’t remember the last time I watched the same film on consecutive evenings, until recently when I saw “The Guest.” The reason being is there are always old and new film and television shows that I have not seen, that I want to watch. Additionally, there are countless books I would like to read, as well as the other writing I do apart from this blog. I actually watched the film at least a month ago, but around that time a number of bloggers, whose posts I read and whose opinions I respect, reviewed the movie, so I figured I would hold off on this post for a while.
Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival on January 17, 2014, the movie clocks in at just under one hundred minutes. Directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next) and written for the screen by Simon Barrett (What Fun We Were Having), the film is a combination of the action, mystery and thriller genres. The title of the movie refers to the main character, David, a mysterious, ice water running through his veins type, portrayed by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey). The British Stevens pulls off a perfect American accent. Not once did I detect a false note. His character has an intensity that at first seems to be brewing just underneath the surface of his physical veneer, in time that intensity will be unleashed full throttle.
After an initial brief scene where he is shown running on an empty road, he is next seen knocking on the door to the Peterson home; greeting him is Laura (Sheila Kelley). David informs her that he was a friend of her son, Caleb, who was in the military and killed in battle. The grieving mother invites David in. He at first acts as if he doesn’t have much time to talk; that he was just stopping by to honor a promise he made to his fellow soldier. To help prove his association with her son, he shows Laura a picture of himself with Caleb and some other soldiers, that is sitting on the mantelpiece of the fireplace. For someone who was just stopping by to pay their respects, he doesn’t put up much of a protest when invited to stay.
Later that same evening, while drinking beers with Caleb’s work- stressed, father Spencer (Leland Orser), David, who doesn’t have any concrete plans, is invited to prolong his visit, until he figures out his next course of action. Most viewers, I feel, will get a sense right from the beginning of the film, that there is more to David than the story he is presenting to the Petersons. Besides his mother and father, Caleb’s family includes his two siblings. There is his sister Anna (Maika Monroe), who is suspicious of David’s motives. A suspicion she attempts to confirm or have dismissed by contacting the military to inquire about David. In addition, there is Caleb’s younger brother, Luke (Brendan Meyer), who is a favorite target of the school bullies.
“The Guest” doesn’t let the viewer know the answers to David’s true purpose for coming to the Peterson home right away. The film takes its time allowing the full mystery to reveal itself. David seems like he is there to help the Petersons. Amongst other examples, there is a scene that takes place in a bar where he extracts revenge on the jocks giving Luke a hard time. Ordering the underage teenagers a round of cosmos, not the most masculine drink to offer a group of young, high testosterone guys, they don’t take kindly to the gesture. They come over to the table where David is sitting with Luke, and proceed to express their displeasure. Suffice it to say, David more than gets the better of the bullies, and lets them know how it feels to get beat on for a change. This is done, during a short, but well choreographed action sequence.
I don’t want to discuss the plot too much, because the saying ‘less is more’ is very much a true statement when applied to this film. The less a viewer knows, before watching the movie, the better. I had only read one review before watching “The Guest,” and that review was spoiler free. I hadn’t even seen a trailer, and I am glad I didn’t. I don’t know if the film would have captured my attention as much as it did, had I known what to look for. Also worth mentioning is the pulse pounding, synth heavy soundtrack, provided by Steve Moore, that helps to set the film’s tone. Moore won the award for Best Soundtrack / Score for his work on “The Guest” at the 2014 UK Horror Awards.
I will add, that the final payoff, does, in my opinion, detract a bit from the rest of the movie. With that being said, the film in its entirety is a fun cinematic experience, that is entertaining, unpredictable and well paced. “The Guest” is a movie that pays homage to popular films from the 1970s and 1980s, but maintains a contemporary feel throughout its runtime.