The Guest (****)
Running time: 99 Minutes
Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelly, Leland Orser, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer and Lance Reddick
(Movie House Dublin Road Press Screening 03/09/2014)
FOLLOWING on from the success of 2011’s You’re Next, director Adam Wingard returns to terrorize our screens with The Guest, an effective, darkly-comic trashy Frankenstein’s monster of a film that pays respects to 70’s grindhouse, 80’s direct-to-video psycho-thrillers and even Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 art-house crime drama Drive.
Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens stars as David Collins, a recently discharged war veteran who unexpectedly turns up on the doorstep of a fallen comrade’s grieving family. After being welcomed in with open arms by an inconsolable mother, a withdrawn teenage son and a father on the verge of alcoholism, David finds himself filling the void left by his squad mate, and becoming the key to putting this broken nuclear family back together. Not everyone is bowled over by the soldier’s good nature however, as the family’s daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) begins to suspect that there’s more to David than meets the eye.
Originally written as serious drama, The Guest was meant to expose the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder that so many war veterans at risk from. However, given Wingard’s horror background, it didn’t take long for that idea to get tossed to one side in favour of a much more tongue-in-cheek story that never takes itself too seriously.
Stevens oozes equal parts seductive charm and menacing psychosis as the ex-soldier that you just can’t help but root for him. There’s an unnerving peril in his eyes right from the out-set and as far as dangerous strangers go, he lies somewhere on the spectrum between Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter and Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher, albeit in the body of a Ryan Gosling lookalike.
But Stevens performance just scratches the surface of a film that has is comprised mainly of cherry-picked homages to schlocky video nasties gone by. The Terminator, Halloween, Cape Fear, and even Scream all seem to be bubbling under the surface of this cauldron, before reaching boiling point in the final act and exploding into an all-out bloody action flick, with a few jumps thrown in for good measure.
It does put the overall tone of the film at risk, at times carefully negotiating between tense fright fest and over-the-top parody. Thankfully, the wonderfully chilling electro-synth soundtrack composed by Steve Moore keeps it together, clearly inspired by the Goblin produced prog-rock soundtracks for the likes of Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead.
Whereas You’re Next was a small-budget film that earned big-budget takings, The Guest find is a cult classic in the making. But even if all the tropes and references go over your head, the mix of macabre comedy, rising tension and bonkers action in The Guest make it worth the price of admission alone.
Review by Leigh Forgie