THE GUEST (2014)
While I certainly am no fan of Adam Wingard’s overrated Your’e Next, I did have a really good time with this fun and very 80s thriller. The story finds the Peterson family grieving over the death of their son Caleb, who died while serving overseas in the military. A man named David (Dan Stevens) shows up at the door unexpectedly, claiming to be an ex-soldier and a very close friend of Caleb’s, who he says asked David to check in on them before he died. They invite David to stay with them and he quickly bonds with the husband and wife (Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser) and their two remaining kids, teen Luke (Brendan Meyer) and twenty year-old Anna (Maika Monroe). Soon, though, when bodies start to pile up in town, it starts to become clear to Anna that the charming and handsome former solider may not be who he seems and is determined to find out just who they have welcomed into their house and what his real intentions are.
First of all, if nothing else, this film has a great 80s vibe, especially with Steve Moore’s electronic score, that evokes Tangerine Dream, and Robby Baumgartner’s cinematography. Second of all, the film is just a lot of fun. We know right from his first charming smile that this guy is not who he seems and that this devil wears an angel’s face. The fun is watching him charm himself into the Petersons’ life, telling them exactly what they want to hear about Caleb, saving Luke from school bullies and helping make dinner…all the while giving us, the audience, little glimpses that there is something far darker and far more lethal behind that boyish grin. Wingard gleefully and skillfully, let’s us in on what this heartbroken family refuses to see…David is a dangerous and possibly unstable man. Once Anna starts to suspect, we know she is immediately putting herself in danger. And it’s even more fun when we find out just how much danger and just who David really is. I must say I didn’t expect the film to go in the direction that Adam Wingard and scripter Simon Barrett take this story and it’s a blast to see it play out. There are some fun and shocking surprises along the way, too. What really makes it all work, though, is that it’s makers know exactly what kind of movie they are making here. They know exactly when to play it cool and exactly when to have some fun and go a little over-the-top. And the 80s vibe is definitely deliberate as certain scenes evoked the glory days of Seagal and Norris, had they played more villainous roles. It’s not perfect. The Peterson’s seem a bit too eager to allow this stranger into their home, especially mom, Laura. Luke’s willingness to go along with David’s deception, even after Anna suspects him of murder seems a bit far-fetched and leads to a betrayal that’s a bit hard to swallow. Despite the two bonding, it seems quite a stretch that Luke would still trust David after all the suspicions and deceptions come to light. When we get the big reveal, we could have had a bit clearer picture as to what is going on with the ex-soldier, too. It’s not vague, but a few more details would have been nice. Flaws aside, though, it’s a good time with some nice suspense and a thrilling and action-packed third act that keeps you from dissecting things too much till it’s over…and by then you’ve had too good a time to be overly critical.
As for the actors, the cast are all very good. Dan Stevens almost fools us with his charming ex-soldier, but let’s just enough of the devil in for us to know something is up. When the ‘cat is out of the bag’, so to speak, he is convincingly lethal when the bullets and blood start to fly. And it makes it even more fun to watch him keep the wool over the unsuspecting family’s eyes. Maika Monroe is a nice surprise as the sweet but strong-willed Anna. She has the look of a young Brittany Murphy and may just have the acting chops too. She plays a tough girl willing to go up against a possible killer to protect her family. Meyer is solid as the meek Luke. He’s the one who bond’s tightest with David and obviously, is the last to believe David is dangerous to him and his family. Meyer convey’s the confused emotions well when it starts to be believed that David is not who he seems. Kelley and Orser are also good as parents Laura and Spencer. Two adults that are too wrapped up in their own grief and lives to see something is definitely off with their guest. They convey that obliviousness and yearning to believe something is real to soothe their inner pain, even though it’s increasingly obvious it’s not. A good cast who take their roles seriously and make this flick work very well.
So, I really enjoyed The Guest. Even without some very heavy 80s influence on it’s story and style, this is just a fun movie that knows what it’s about and just goes with it in the right degrees…and at the right times. We have a solid cast and some good direction by Adam Wingard that makes this story work, even when it sometimes asks for a little suspension of disbelief. The key here is Wingard knows that we know something’s up and he respects that we’ve seen a lot of this before and so he just has a good time telling the familiar tale and takes us along for the ride. And yes, Mr. Wingard, I saw the Halloween III easter egg…well played. A fun retro movie with a great soundtrack of songs, too! (see track listing below)
3 and 1/2 bullets.
BONUS: SONGS TRACKS from The Guest Soundtrack…
- “Haunted When The Minutes Drag” (Love and Rockets) – 8:01
- “Hourglass” (Survive) – 4:30
- “Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Version)” (Annie) – 4:14
- “The Magician” (Mike Simonetti) – 3:59
- “Masquerade” (Clan Of Xymox) – 3:53
- “Omniverse” (Survive) – 4:34
- “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” (Stevie B) – 5:03
- “Storm Column” (Gatekeeper) – 3:30
- “A Day” (Clan Of Xymox) – 6:40
- “Emma” (The Sisters of Mercy) – 6:34
- “Obsidian” (Gatekeeper) – 4:19
- “Cry In The Wind” (Clan Of Xymox) – 5:16