Is there anything better than sitting down to watch a horror movie not expecting much and ya end up being blown away by it? That’s exactly what happened this past weekend when I sat down to watch THE GUEST. THE GUEST is brought to us by the same team that brought us 2011’s YOU’RE NEXT. I enjoyed YOU’RE NEXT but wasn’t nearly as blown away by it as most audiences were. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett essentially gave us DIE HARD with gore and a kick ass female lead character, which was by far the best part of YOU’RE NEXT. So when I came across THE GUEST I wasn’t expecting too much from it. I hadn’t heard or read much about it and in fact the only thing I knew was that it’s another Wingard and Barrett team up. I’ve been saying this a lot lately but it seems that the less I know about a film going into it the more I like it!! THE GUEST is a fantastic film in every way. The story is beautifully told and is layered with many subtleties to it. Just when you think you know what’s going on it suddenly changes gears and goes in a different direction.
I must tell you something right from the start, though. THE GUEST isn’t really a horror movie (if you think about it, was YOU’RE NEXT a horror movie??). No, THE GUEST definitely fits more into the thriller genre, but that doesn’t mean you’re gonna like it any less. When I sat down to watch this I was looking forward to seeing a horror movie. Wingard and Barrett have a way of transcending genres with their films. There’s certainly horror-like elements in THE GUEST but to classify it as a “horror film” doesn’t do it justice. And don’t worry … there will be NO SPOILERS in this review.
THE GUEST begins with a simple knock on the door (oh how the smallest things can change our lives!!). Standing on the doorstep of the Peterson’s doorstep is David (Dan Stevens). Good looking, charming, and extremely polite, David has recently been discharged from the military and beelined it over to the Peterson’s house because he was buddies with Kaleb Peterson, who was killed in the war. At first Laura (Sheila Kelley), Kaleb’s mom, is a little hesitant about David but after he shares some Kaleb stories with her she warms up to him and even insists on him staying the night. Spencer (Leland Orser) doesn’t like the idea of having David stay in Kaleb’s old room but is also slowly charmed by David’s charisma and agrees. After a few beers Spencer ends up insisting that David live with them until he gets on his feet. From then it doesn’t take long to charm Luke (Brendan Meyer), Kaleb’s younger brother, and Anna (Maika Monroe).
It’s clear from the beginning that there’s something off about David. Is he really who he says he is? Did he actually know Kaleb? Was he even in the military? Maybe he’s dealing with PTSD or is just a sociopath? The one thing we do know is that David is extremely intelligent, cunning, strong, and has some kind of agenda he’s working. I really loved how David formed a relationship with each member of the Peterson family. It’s like he preyed on each members weakness without them knowing he was doing so. He helps Luke take care of some bullies at school (in one of the most intense scenes in the film). He sympathizes with Spencer about his dead end job, and he’s there for Anna when she’s having trouble with her boyfriend. He’s using the Peterson’s weaknesses but there’s nothing really sinister about his motives. He seems to be helping them, even though each family member doesn’t know he’s helping them, because he generally likes them. The only problem, though, is that he’s leaving a trail of violence and bodies behind that can’t be easily linked back to himself.
Then just when you think you might finally have a grasp on what David’s up to, BAM … THE GUEST throws a new element into the mix that completely pulls the rug out from under you (don’t worry; I won’t be spoiling this twist). Not only is it a fantastic curveball but it comes exactly in the right place in the film.
There’s so many elements that come together to make this a fantastic film but perhaps the most important element is the acting. Dan Stevens is nothing short of amazing in his role as David. Not only does he kill it with his performance but he completely owns his role. One moment he’s charming and laughing and making you feel like you’ve been best friends for years and then he’s scary and cold with an icy stare and acid in his veins the next moment. It’s a phenomenal performance. The actors making up the Peterson family also do great jobs, especially Meyer and Monroe (Luke and Anna, respectively). Monroe’s Anna is both innocent and worldly at the same time. She wants to believe David but her gut is telling her differently. Meyer’s Luke is sensitive and damaged (from the loss of his older brother in the war) but there’s a fighter buried beneath the surface that David brings out. In one telling scene David is talking to Luke about the bullies at school when he takes out a switchblade and gives it to Luke to keep. David them tells him:
“If [the bullies] at school are bigger than you then bring a knife to school. If they take it off you and beat you senseless then go around to their houses at nighttime and burn them down with their families inside.”
The look on Luke’s face was priceless and should’ve gotten Meyer’s an award solely on that scene. Really fantastic performances by everyone.
THE GUEST is not a film to be missed!! Besides the crazy-good acting we also get an amazing soundtrack that perfectly fits both the tone and atmosphere of the film. But what really ties everything together is the incredible cinematography, by Robby Baumgartner. Baumgartner uses some unique camera angles to capture particular moods as well as shooting in a stunning color palette. I’m telling ya, there’s not one element here that doesn’t enhance the entire film. This is Wingard and Barrett at the top of their games!! THE GUEST is available on many VOD platforms including Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Vudu. Whatever platform you favor you’re gonna love THE GUEST.
Director: Adam Wingard
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer