It pays to be careful whom we welcome into our lives, and in Adam Wingardís The Guest, a fallen soldierís grieving family discover that their devastating loss was only the beginning of their worst nightmare when a handsome serviceman appears unexpectedly at their front door. A slick, deftly scripted thriller from one of horror cinemaís hottest young directors, The Guest delivers an exhilarating blend of visceral suspense and playful black humor with style and confidence to spare. Itís all anchored by a magnetic lead performance from Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens, who manages the impressive feat of getting us to root for his enigmatic yet outwardly amiable visitor, before revealing him to be the most ruthless, calculating type of villain imaginable.
When David (Stevens) shows up on the Peterson familyís doorstep, claiming that he was serving in Afghanistan with Caleb Peterson when the latter was killed in action, grieving mother Laura (Sheila Kelley) and her husband Spencer (Leland Orser) invite him to stay in their late sonís room as he makes the transition back to civilian life. Meanwhile, Calebís sister Anna (Maika Monroe) begins to sense that something isnít quite right about David. Sure, he helps her misfit brother Luke (Brendan Meyer) stand up to some ruthless local bullies, but when a furtive inquiry into the strangerís past raises more questions than answers, Anna grows convinced that heís harboring some very dark secrets. Those suspicions seem to be confirmed when her boyfriend is accused of murder and her fatherís boss perishes under bizarre circumstances. Later, when a military official (Lance Reddick) shows up with a small army of mercenaries, Annaís worst fears are confirmed as all hell breaks loose and her once-peaceful town becomes a war zone.
In 2007, emerging director Wingard made an auspicious doubleheader debut with the high-concept slasher flick Home Sick and the hallucinogenic supernatural thriller Pop Skull. Those two movies revealed him to be something unique in the world of genre cinema -- a filmmaker who uses his passion for retro horror as a springboard to crafting highly original story lines that are rich with style and atmosphere. The Guest is easily Wingardís most accessible film to date, but what sets it apart from most mainstream thrillers is the fact that its gonzo sensibilities betray its glossy finish -- especially once the plot kicks into high gear. So even though Davidís secret is essentially a silly action-movie cliche, the cast sell it with everything theyíve got, and screenwriter Simon Barrett infuses the story with enough energy to maintain an exciting sense of momentum.
At the center of it all, of course, is Stevens. An English actor and a familiar face to Downton Abbey fans, he effortlessly exudes the disciplined, well-mannered demeanor of an all-American soldier. Stevens is so effective in the role that, even though we know going in that David is trouble, we canít help cheering for him as he gives young Luke the courage to stand up to some bullying jocks and helps the floundering Anna regain her self-respect. Likewise, as the besieged Luke, Meyer provides the character with a convincing sense of vulnerability that makes his infatuation with David entirely believable, and helps to reinforce the suspense by making us wonder just how far heíll go to help his increasingly dangerous surrogate brother. Monroe balances teen pathos with protective suspicion in a way that reinforces her status as a rising young star, and Kelley and Orser are note perfect as the grief-stricken parents whose intense suffering creates a critical blind spot in their role as protectors.
The ominous tone established by Wingard early on is aptly supported by Steve Mooreís mesmerizing, synth-heavy score. One half of the Pittsburgh-based ìspace-rockî duo Zombi, Moore draws on influences such as Goblin and John Carpenter to both reinforce the filmís throwback sensibilities and heighten the tension. By the time David is hunting his prey through a Halloween maze (amusingly adorned with some familiar-looking masks) late in the movie, Wingard and company have established an air of giddy suspense that affirms their tight grip on genre convention, and that sets the perfect tone for the pictureís compulsively funny final line. Sure, some contemporary thrillers might be smarter and more reputable than The Guest, but few are likely to be as stylish, efficient, or just plain fun. As in their earlier film Youíre Next, Wingard and Barrett have shaken up a familiar formula in all the right ways.
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- Released: 2014
- Rating: R
- Review: It pays to be careful whom we welcome into our lives, and in Adam Wingardís The Guest, a fallen soldierís grieving family discover that their devastating loss was only the beginning of their worst nightmare when a handsome serviceman appears unexpectedly a… (more)