Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Tabatha Shaun
Plot: A family are devastated over the death of the eldest son in Afghanstan, when the son’s best friend, a handsome, smooth-talking, compassionate soldier (Stevens) turns up to comfort them.
The real problem I have with reviewing the Guest is finding something not to like about it. While I do think it is guilty of having slightly too much fun in places, on the whole, it is a brilliantly-made, entertaining movie that is almost impossible not to fall in love with.
The easiest thing to compliment is Dan Stevens. For most, this will be their first experience with the actor and he easily makes his Hollywood debut one to be talked about for some time. He absolutely nails the role of David Collins. It is the kind of role that, a decade or two ago, would be filled with a below-par actor, who would earn his place on the movie by raking in a wider fan-base. David talks in a subdued, polite manner, addressing everyone as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ and even when he is dealing with a world breaking down around him, he never raises his tone above a ‘disappointed parent’ sharpness. It could be a role easily coasted through and no one would notice what could have been. But Dan Stevens goes above and beyond the line of duty, by making David Collins another contender for Best Character of 2014. Credit goes to the writers for giving Stevens some of the wittiest and smooth dialogue that he can have a field day with (a scene where he buys a group of school bullies girly cocktails screams cool!), channelling a cross between Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. There is also a few routes that the movie could go down with its twist and Dan Steven’s performance teases all of them. He purrs lines like a serial killer, sits still like a robot and possesses the training of an assassin. Something as simple as a fine-tuned performance keeps the audience guessing right until the very end. Even at the end, Stevens cleverly throws in a few finer levels to the performance that will open up several fan theories as to what David Collin’s motives actually were. At the same time, Stevens never stops being on the same wavelength as the rest of the movie. Many more actors could do what Stevens is asked to do, but I never could escape the feeling that they would get caught up in the character and end up sticking out like a sore thumb. Dan Stevens knows that even when the film veers dramatically into action and horror, it is played first and foremost, for fun. While I cannot give away the last half hour of the film, Stevens is constantly coming out with the best facial expressions to just perfect the moment at hand. This actor is one to watch and his agent must be drowning in phone calls right now.
But while the Guest seems to be Dan Steven’s show, there is a lot more to compliment about it. For one, this is Adam Wingard’s creation. Wingard seems to have been the mastermind behind the black sheep of both 2013 and now 2014. You’re Next blew everyone away, but perhaps that movie suffered because no one was expecting it. While it was a hilarious re-working of the genre, it failed as a horror movie, which is what everyone came to see. With The Guest, we are prepared for the director to refuse to cooperate with the genre and as a result, when Wingard plays around with a certain stereotype or genre characteristic, we go with it, rather than being lost in the director’s creativity. At times, it is an action without a hero, or a horror without a monster, yet it works, because of the amount of fun on-screen. Horror tropes are cleverly done – a mirror maze and a smoke-filled dance floor are used excellently. Adam Wingard’s love of a good gory murder comes into play a lot, yet he uses each of his indulgences with precision, proving himself to be more than a director with a burning desire in the back of his mind to go shove as much blood and guts onto his screen as possible. What you will leave the Guest talking about the most will probably be the electronic soundtrack. It works as a ticking time-bomb, pulsing away in the background, while at the same time, being brilliant music. In watching this movie, I found another snub at the OSCARs, overlooked just because it wasn’t a traditional style of orchestra music. It will help the Guest achieve that cult level, like Drive and Scott Pilgrim Vs the World. People will watch this movie again, if nothing else for the music.
But my personal favourite thing about The Guest was the core family in the middle of this story. We know Wingard’s style by now. He takes a story and pumps it full of comic book characters. Dan Steven’s David Collins is essentially a glorified superhero, patching up bullet wounds with little more than an exasperated sigh. The soldiers he comes up against are faceless villains, given just enough dialogue to look cool, before being thrown into the ring for a Hollywood fight. Even the civilians are portrayed as something out of a graphic novel – the drug-dealing scumbag boyfriend, the alcoholic dad, the beaming mother who means well. This isn’t an insult: with You’re Next, we loved watching these masked bad guys come up against the female John McClane. The style works and is one that we will be happy to watch again and again from the director. Yet with the Guest, there were two characters who weren’t comic book exaggerations: Anna and Luke, the two siblings caught up in this crazy adventure. They grounded the story, sometimes the only two characters Adam Wingard allows us to emphasise with, and when their lives are threatened, we begin getting terrified, because they are worlds away from the cartoonishly strong enemies they have to take on. Maika Monroe is an incredible actress, forced to walk the tightrope between pretty party girl and actually breaking out of the stereotype. She succeeds and as a result, we invest in her as a character and are happy for her to lead the story, whenever Dan Stevens is off-screen. When you go head to head with an incredible actor handed a fantastic character and emerge just as liked, you know you have done well.
Final Verdict: The Guest is the kind of film you just have fun with. At the same time, you are left impressed at how well made it is. Well directed, beautifully acted and with an unforgettable soundtrack to boot.