Review: The Guest (Sundance 2014)
PLOT:A former soldier (Dan Stevens) makes his way to the family home of a fallen comrade, and quickly becomes a beloved, indefinite house-guest. However, the family's teenage children (Maika Monroe & Brendan Meyer) soon begin to suspect this former soldier is not all that he claims to be.
REVIEW: Hot off the success of YOU'RE NEXT, director Adam Wingard is back with another great homage/deconstruction of the kind of eighties movies you'd find on the shelves of your local video store- when such a thing existed. While YOU'RE NEXT was an inspired take on the home invasion thriller, THE GUEST has an even broader scope of influences. Think of this as THE BOURNE IDENTITY, crossed with THE TERMINATOR, with a healthy dose of HALLOWEEN thrown in for good measure. If this sounds bug nuts insane, that's only because it is- in the most awesome way possible.
DOWNTON ABBEY's Dan Stevens stars as the titular house guest, in what's a radical, career redefining performance as the former soldier who's not as he seems. Forget the floppy-haired, stammering Lord Matthew. This is a bold performance by Stevens which will forever quash the notion that he was some kind of Hugh Grant in the making. Here, he's more like Michael Shannon with a six-pack and movie-star good looks.
For Stevens, this is challenging performance on several levels. Even though it's clear early-on that his character is not quite right in the head, solving a bullying problem by nearly crippling the teens involved, and spending an awful lot of time trying to impress the family's good-looking daughter, Stevens has to maintain some semblance of likability. Otherwise, why would the family welcome him into their home? Stevens manages to be alternately menacing, and often charming and funny, while also pulling off some incredible physical action towards the end that's like something out of a Bond film. Based on this, Stevens wouldn't be a half-bad substitute for Daniel Craig once he decides to turn in his license to kill. He was great on DOWNTON ABBEY, but with this part he's completely reinvented himself.
The rest of the cast is also very effective, with Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer striking a good balance of simultaneous terror and fascination with their new house guest. Nineties heartthrob Ethan Embry has a nifty cameo as a trash gun dealer, as does Joel David Moore as a small-town drug dealer in way over his head. The great Lance Reddick from THE WIRE also shows up in a nifty, gun-toting part.
As much fun as YOU'RE NEXT was, THE GUEST might be an even better movie. Wingard's proven himself in both horror, and his earlier artier fare, but this is him juggling genres- with an emphasis on comedy and action- and outdoing films with 10x the budget. Like YOU'RE NEXT, the crisp 2:35:1 scope visuals are heavily stylized, with this being filled with neon and red, giving this the feel of a retro-eighties B-movie, but more polished. The soundtrack is incredible, with Wingard and his music supervisor digging deep into eighties synth catalogs, with obscure tracks by bands like Clan of Xymox and The Sisters of Mercy, mixed with newer tracks and a great synth score by Stephen Moore.
Between this and COLD IN JULY, you'd swear the eighties were back again. This is a ninety-minute thrill-ride that fits right in with the very best genre fare of that era. Big thrills, big laughs, and tons of carnage- THE GUEST has it all and deserves to be a real crossover hit for both Wingard and Stevens. Hopefully it'll get the release it deserves.