Adam Wingard's THE GUEST and David Robert Mitchell's IT FOLLOWS, both of which had their first screenings in 2014, not only provided young actress Maika Monroe with lead roles, they also served as a career breakthrough for her, causing viewers to sit up and take notice of her talent and helping her land a high profile gig in this summer's INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. Although THE GUEST and IT FOLLOWS are quite different from each other, they are also quite similar, both retro-style films with John Carpenter DNA coursing through them. So I think they are prime candidates for a Face-Off battle...
Monroe plays twenty-year-old waitress Anna Peterson, whose family has recently been shattered by the loss of her brother Caleb, killed in combat while serving in Afghanistan. When David, a discharged soldier who claims he knew Caleb, shows up at the Peterson home, it's Anna who is the most resistant to his charms... and her distrust of him is proven to be justified. Although Anna is petulant and immature in some ways, there is also a strength and determination to the character. She may be a bit of a pain at first, but by the end she has stepped up to become a decent heroine.
Monroe's Jay Height is a rather average girl-next-door college student who just happens to have been wooed by the wrong guy. After they've had sex, he reveals that he has just dropped Jay into a living nightmare. From this point on, she is an emotional wreck who lives in constant fear of the relentless supernatural force that is pursuing her. The level of fear she is experiencing is very understandable, but is so intense that it also makes her somewhat of a weak heroine. If Jay didn't have such an incredible support system of family and friends, she wouldn't last very long.
Dan Stevens delivers a star-making performance as the mysterious David, who appears on the surface to be a charismatic, polite, pleasant guy. He takes it upon himself to help the Peterson clan with all their troubles, but putting teenagers in the hospital, faking suicides, framing people for murder, and encouraging violence and arson aren't the most acceptable forms of helpfulness. When his cover is blown, the conditioning he received in a top secret special forces program overwhelms all else and he becomes an unstoppable killing machine. He's like a charming Michael Myers.
The "It" of this story is one of the most interesting concepts to be introduced in a horror film in quite some time. Mitchell's idea takes the popular horror cliché of "sex = death" to its zenith; this creature is literally sexually transmitted death. When you have sex with someone It is following, the curse is passed on to you, and this seemingly unstoppable force will follow you until it kills you, constantly changing its appearance in its effort to get close to you. Some of its forms are disgusting and off-putting, but others are convincing replications of people you know.
The main supporting character here is Brendan Meyer as Anna's teenage brother Luke, who becomes quite fond of David after he helps him with a bully problem at school. A bit too fond of him for my taste - I don't like that Luke is so willing to overlook the fact that David might be killing people just because they're pals. Sheila Kelley does fine work playing mother-in-mourning Laura. I'm not fully into how Leland Orser plays family patriarch Spencer, but you don't go to Orser if you don't want at least a little quirk. Lance Reddick shows up for a fun turn as David's version of Doctor Loomis, while Tabatha Shaun, Joel David Moore, and Ethan Embry make good impressions in smaller roles.
Jay is truly carried on the shoulders of the people who care for her - her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), ex Greg (Daniel Zovatto), and friends Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Paul (Keir Gilchrist), who harbors a not-so-secret crush on her. This group is completely supportive of her and willing to do anything for her. It's quite refreshing that, no matter how crazy the idea of It sounds, her sister and friends never treat Jay like she's out of her mind or stupid for believing in It. Even if they have trouble accepting it, they don't doubt her to her face. And when it becomes clear that It is real, they put their safety on the line to save her. The tightness of this group may be the best thing about the movie.
THE GUEST evokes the look and feel of the '80s while still being firmly set in the modern world, pushing nostalgic buttons with colorful lighting and a soundtrack and score that are heavy on synth. Since I have a major love for almost all things '80s, this style works like magic for me. I love watching this movie and soaking in its faux-'80s atmosphere.
Set in modern day, IT FOLLOWS feels like a film out of time. Characters have access to fancy e-readers, while also watching old movies in old theatres and on old TVs. This style is paired with a synth-heavy score and a deliberate pace. Mitchell lingers on imagery most directors wouldn't include, making some viewers feel that there's less going on than there actually is.
The third act of THE GUEST is divisive; viewers either think it's when the film starts firing on all cylinders, or that it's when everything goes off the rails. I'm in the former camp. As enjoyable as the build-up of mystery and sporadic violence is, for me the entertainment level of the film is given a substantial boost when David embarks on his spree of mayhem and murder, leading to an awesome climactic sequence set in a high school gymnasium that has been decorated for a Halloween dance. Fog, fire, HALLOWEEN III references, and bloodshed, all accompanied by a cool soundtrack? The final moments of THE GUEST are glorious.
The characters of IT FOLLOWS do their best to deliver a big climactic sequence, taking the action to a large pool housed within an old rec center that resembles a crumbling castle, surrounding the water with electrical devices, but it ends up feeling like a lot of effort for little pay-off. Their plan peters out and the tactic they use to "defeat" It is basically just a bigger version of something that already happened earlier. The sequence ends with a rather cool visual, but doesn't feel very satisfying to me overall. THE GUEST and IT FOLLOWS both have open endings, but the former provides a lot more fun on the way to its non-ending.
I enjoy THE GUEST and IT FOLLOWS both a great deal, I could gladly endure watching either or both of them on a lengthy loop, but by the time the end credits are rolling it is THE GUEST that has given me the better time overall, and I feel that Maika Monroe had a better character to work with in it. IT FOLLOWS has a brilliant concept, but THE GUEST has the more appealing execution.
Let us know what you think of this Face-Off's results by leaving a comment below. Do you agree that THE GUEST deserved the victory, or do you side with IT FOLLOWS? I would also love to hear any suggestions you may have for future match-ups. If you have any movies in mind that you'd like to see go against each other, send me an email at CodyHamman@joblo.com.