Directed by: Adam Wingard.
Written by: Simon Barrett.
Starring: Dan Stevens ("David"), Maika Monroe (Anna Peterson), Brendan Meyer (Luke Peterson), Sheila Kelley (Laura Peterson), Leland Orser (Spencer Peterson), Lance Reddick (Major Carver), Tabatha Shaun (Kristen), Chase Williamson (Zeke), Joel David Moore (Craig), Stephen Brown (Mike), Brenden Wedner (Ian), Alex Knight (Mr. Lyles), Ethan Embry (Higgings).
In last year’s You’re Next, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett teamed up to play with some of the conventions of the home invasion horror genre – and did so pretty much wonderfully. The film was funny and scary – not exactly original, but completely enthralling. In their follow-up film, The Guest, they one-up themselves once again. The film is brilliantly well made, written and acted – and while once again you cannot say the film is all that original, it is so well made – and just so much damn fun – that I doubt any genre fans will mind.
The film opens with the arrival of David (Dan Stevens) on the doorstep of the Peterson family. Their oldest son, Caleb, died while serving in the Iraq war – and David says he was good friends with him – was even with him when Caleb died. And sure enough, up on the mantle is a picture of Caleb’s unit, and there’s David. He says he’s just there to pay his respects – but mother Laura (Sheila Kelley) insists he stay with them for a few days – she misses her son, and David would make a good substitute. Although father Spencer (Leland Orser) initially has his reservations – he is eventually won over as well – mainly because David makes a good drinking buddy. High school nerd Luke (Brendan Meyer) likes David as well – he helps Luke with some bullies at school, and treats him with respect no one else does. Only older sister Anna (Maika Monroe) has her reservations about David – but he’s so effortlessly charming that even she eventually warms to him.
It is that effortless charm that makes David so creepy. Dan Stevens has the bluest eyes I can recall in a movie, and he uses those eyes better than just about any other performance this year. They can be charming, seductive, creepy – and when David is all by himself, seemingly dead as if no one is there behind those eyes. He often switches what he’s doing with those eyes within the scene – and makes us wonder just what exactly is going on with David – what his real story is. The movie will eventually give us some answers – more than I think is really necessary for the movie to work, yet still far less than most movies would give.
We know that The Guest is going to erupt into violence at some point – there is an undercurrent of suspense from the opening scenes, and it never goes away. Wingard directs the film out of the John Carpenter handbook – and gradually ratchets up the suspense – but still finds some surprising notes along the way. The Guest is at turns a dark comedy, a thriller and a horror movie – climaxing as it must with multiple violent action and horror set pieces. We know this going in, but what is so surprising about The Guest is that buildup is just as exciting (if not more so) than the payoff – and even that payoff works better than most other movies of this sort.
One of the stars of You’re Next was fellow horror filmmaker Ti West – whose House of the Devil (2009) was a brilliant throwback to the horror films of the VHS era of the 1980s – perhaps the best made in recent years. That is until The Guest – which is even better. This is a cult classic in the making.