On the Silver Screen – The Guest
Adam Wingard’s The Guest is a comedy horror/thriller about a soldier introducing himself to a family claiming to be a friend of their son. His story comes under suspiction when a series of seemingly accidental deaths appear to be connected to his arrival.
The scale of this film is very small, only focussing on a handful of characters in a handful of locations but it really works in the story’s favour. Immediately we are introduced to David (Dan Stevens) who introduces himself to the Peterson’s (Leland Orser and Sheila Kelley playing the paternal roles) and right away seems unsettlingly pleasant. Everything he says is polite and personable but there’s a sinister undercurrent to everything he says and does. Stevens does a fantastic job of playing the role of David with something unsettling under the surface. David is able to win over anyone he meets with his charming personality and helpful attitude that seems to inspire trust. Initially the only member of the family who has doubts is Anna (Maika Monroe) who calls his old military base and finds out that David may not be who he says he is.
Most of the first half of the film concerns the mystery of who this mysterious stranger is and what he’s doing in this town. This is done really well with some really funny situations; a bar fight being a particular highlight. In the beginning it seems like David is improving things in positive ways like helping Luke (Brendan Meyer) with his bullying problem and staving off the unwelcome attention from Kristen’s (Tabatha Shaun) ex boyfriend but it isn’t long before David’s actions get out of hand.
After this point, the film becomes something of a spoof on the slasher horror genre but it somehow manages to do this more sincerely than some of the serious entries in this genre. The first half manages to effectively establish the characters and make them more fully formed than you might expect from a film like this. Instead of a collection of tropes that only seem to exist so that we’ll be glad when they’re dead the characters seem more like real people and it actually means something when they start to die. Most of the action is played for laughs and the last act showdown is a great example of an over the top slasher stalking location with lots of ironic jump scares and a seemingly invincible pursuer. It’s really great stuff that’s elevated by the strong performances from the main cast. In terms of style the film feels like something John Carpenter would have been responsible for in his prime and that’s no bad thing.
Overall, this film is a very entertaining watch and at a brisk 99 minutes doesn’t overstay its welcome. The script is smart and funny, the cast are mostly excellent in their roles and the situations are hilarious without descending into farce, it walks the line very well and manages to be an effective spoof of the slasher genre while being one of the more sincere entries I’ve seen in a while.