Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer
The Peterson family are mourning the death of their son Caleb who was recently killed in action in Afghanistan when they are visited by David Collins (Stevens), who was a close friend of Caleb and served with him in Afghanistan. David is charming and ingratiates himself in with the family; however a series of deaths in the nearby town lead to dark and unexpected revelations about David’s true identity.
It seems that the writing and directing combo of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard like to mash-up genres while happily taking inspiration (stealing) from plenty of previous genre films. While You’re Next happily played with the horror genre and just about worked, The Guest is a lot more fun to watch, but still ultimately very empty.
While playfully whipping together various genres with a tongue in cheek self awareness can be fun, and in The Guest it is very much fun, what is essentially creative theft will only go so far and though it is without doubt a very enjoyable 100 minute romp that is slickly put together, it is ultimately vacuous nonsense.
Adam Wingard is obviously a very talented filmmaker who knows genre and in what is essentially a film of two halves there are many pleasures to be had in The Guest. Dan Stevens is incredibly charismatic as David, and there is no doubt that The Guest would not be half as good without the sort of performance Stevens provides that makes David extremely likable but also very unnerving, we know we probably shouldn’t like him, but we just do. In the film’s first half Barrett’s tight script, Wingard’s even tighter direction and Steven’s charismatic performance provide intrigue and genuine tension that the second half, though never anything less than entertaining, just cannot quite match.
Self awareness can often feel like blatant laziness (like in Seven Psychopaths) and the film’s more action based second half is made with a constant self awareness and its tongue very much in its cheek. This is fine, but still does venture on laziness as it does feel that at times Barrett and Wingard think they can get away with things not necessarily making sense or feeling a little random as there is always a certain level of self aware playfulness. It is a dangerous path to take, but Wingard is a director with visual flair and he certainly utilises the setting of Halloween and what looks like an outrageously expensive Halloween maze at a local school to create an often visually inventive climax. John Carpenter style synth scores seem to be making a bit of a comeback at the moment, and Steve Moore’s score does add to the enjoyment, even if the use of songs is a little odd and produces mixed results.
Silly and vacuous nonsense; thanks to Wingard’s creative visual flair and Steven’s highly charismatic performance The Guest is never anything less than an entertaining film, but if Wingard is to ever make a great film he needs to try far, far harder.