Review: The Guest
PLOT: Dealing with the death of their son, a distraught family finds solace in a stranger who claims to be a friend to the deceased. Once they offer him a place to stay at their home, terrible things begin to happen to those surrounding them.
In YOURE NEXT director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett created a knowing nod to the horror genre, and managed to even elicit some seriously scary moments. In their latest feature, THE GUEST, they offer audiences an entertaining blend of action, thriller and satire with a phenomenal leading man in the guise of Dan Stevens. The less you know about THE GUEST, the better and more startling the viewing experience will be. It is a strange yet appealing look at a very normal family placed in a, lets just say, challenging situation. What happens when a stranger comes to your door saying they knew your deceased son? Apparently all hell breaks loose.
For the Peterson family, the loss of their son who died in action has taken its toll. When a stranger comes to their door saying he was a good friend to the deceased, they welcome him in. For Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley), she sees her son in this stranger and is quick to accept him. Yet for their daughter Anna (Maika Monroe), there is a serious mistrust in this polite gentleman who calls himself David. Meanwhile, younger son Luke (Brendan Meyer) finds this new house guest to be very helpful when it comes to a group of bullies terrorizing him at school. And for Spencer (Leland Orser), the overworked and frustrated dad, he has found a new drinking buddy who he at first is wary of. As for David (Stevens) we know very little about his intentions and just how dangerous he may be.
Director Adam Wingard has a knack for creating well-crafted tautness within his films. From literally the second the title card is revealed, The Guest covers the entire screen and is accompanied by a blast of the score by Steve Moore, there is a very potent energy. The way Wingard builds to the second half of the film finds that all expectations of what is to come flies out the window. It is hard not to be fully engrossed in the ferocity of what is on-screen. And yes, this is a violent film. It may not be quite as brutal as YOURE NEXT, but the barrage of gunfire and the nerve-wracking final sequence manage to keep you on the edge of your seat for the most part. The energy slows down in the middle section.
The strange and compelling story spends most of its time connecting David to the family. The dynamic is unique with each of the Peterson clan - most interesting is his relationship with Luke, who he teaches to defend himself. As far as the older daughter Anna, who happens to be secretly dating someone the parent dont approve of (the amiable Chase Williamson), she begins to find her own interest in their guest. The scene where David conveniently appears half-naked in front of her offers a little humor in her reaction to her own libido. Aside from this moment, there is no shortage of wit that cleverly gives the audience a little break in-between the well-earned suspense.
Dan Stevens (TVs Downton Abbey) is perfect as THE GUEST in question. At one moment he is a charming young man trying to impress, the next minute he is vicious and frightening. He brings a sense of fun and ferocity to David, and still manages to occasionally have you rooting for him. The more of his character that is revealed, it soon becomes apparent that he may be far more sinister than you expect. And he is terrific every step of the way. This is a fantastic performance from the actor that is sure to garner a ton of buzz and solidify Stevens as an impressive leading man.
One of the most pleasant surprises here is the casting of the delightful Sheila Kelley. As Laura, she is absolutely genuine and convincing. She exudes warmth as a woman trying to find a little piece of her son in this stranger she allows in her home. The rest of the family is equally good, especially both Monroe and Meyer as the siblings dealing with the loss of their brother. The later has one scene where he takes a swing at his classmate, proving that he is finding himself within what David is teaching him. In the end, the Petersons are sympathetic enough that youd like to see them make it out alive.
THE GUEST is a unique and invigorating genre-bender that offers up equal part humor, horror and action. With its moderate budget, Wingard thrillingly creates an unsettling dread as well as startling wit to this modern American family. As well, Barretts script manages to be smart, with tongue-in-cheek humor that never takes away from the bullet-ridden second half. It helps that Dan Stevens gives such a fantastic performance as the outsider who has a few secrets tucked away. For those looking for shrewd satire to mix in with rousing action, this is a guest you wont want to turn away.
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