Stream to Scream: “THE GUEST”News Christopher La Vigna No Comment
Two of the most interesting voices to come up from the indie horror scene in the last few years have been director Adam Wingard and his partner-in-crime, screenwriter Simon Barrett. After Wingard (a longtime collaborator of CHEAP THRILLS director E.L. Katz) teamed up with Barrett for the grim, minimalistic A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, the pair began gaining notice with their contributions to anthology films like the V/H/S series and and ABCs OF DEATH. However, Wingard and Barrett really hit their stride when their home invasion horror YOU’RE NEXT, which arrived to ho-hum box office in 2013 only to become a cult favorite since.
Then, in late 2014, Wingard and Barrett added another solid entry into their filmographies with THE GUEST, an engaging thriller drenched in style with a heavy air of John Carpenter lingering over the proceedings. In fact, with a synth-heavy score from composer Steve Moore (reportedly played with the same types of synths Carpenter and Alan Howarth used for HALLOWEEN III), the 2.35:1 aspect ratio which manages to give the film a wide, cinematic feel even when viewed in the comfort of one’s home, and, of course, the repeated visual references to infamous Silver Shamrock masks makes the influence of the horror maestro felt all over THE GUEST. But make no mistake: the fun, self-aware and tone-defying film has Barrett and Wingard written all over it, and it leaves one hell of an impression.
The story begins with David (Dan Stevens), an enigmatic character who unexpectedly drops onto the doorstep of the Peterson family, who lost their eldest son Caleb to the war in Afghanistan. David claims to have served alongside Caleb, and immediately endears himself to Mrs. Peterson (Sheila Kelly) by telling her that he only came back to impart Caleb’s final words about how much his family meant to him. Touched and vulnerable, Mrs. Peterson invites David stay at their home for a little while, and in no time, David has become a friend to each member of the family– listening diligently to Mr. Peterson’s (Leland Orser) work-related gripes and using physical intervention to take care of youngest child Luke’s (Brendan Meyer) bully problems.
The only member of the house who doesn’t automatically take to the admittedly likeable stranger is Anna (future IT FOLLOWS star Maika Monroe, providing another reason to consider her the next big scream queen) whose cool demeanor and searching eyes seem to size David up as an intruder very quickly. But even Anna almost falls for David’s charm, once David takes care of her friend’s abusive ex-boyfriend and takes interest in her off-beat musical tastes. But Anna’s initial suspicions are soon validated by the guest’s unpredictable behavior and suspicious attitude, but by the time ,we get even a vague impression of who/what David really is (right around the time a mysterious military agency gets in on the action), it proves to be too late for many of the players involved.
Dan Stevens’ performance is perfect for the character, straddling the line between charming and mysterious so expertly that it actually might take the viewer some time to decide how they themselves feel about this man who is undoubtedly hiding something. When he whispers words of comfort and encouragement, you want to believe him, and when tells you you’re going to die while brandishing a pistol, you’ve got no choice but to believe him.
THE GUEST is a clever, well paced, visually stunning (the film’s superb cinematography really hits its peak during the final sequence at a high school Halloween dance), and succeeds in being taken seriously while also displaying Wingard and Barret’s penchant for pitch black humor. The film ends on a twisted gag not unlike YOU’RE NEXT, and is liable to elicit a laugh as much as it would a gasp. If you’re looking for a quality horror-thriller flick to watch this weekend when you realize you’re too tired to go out Saturday night, THE GUEST will be waiting for you.
THE GUEST is currently streaming on Netflix.