The Guest (2014) [REVIEW] [SUNDANCE ’14]

the guest movie poster sundance

Believe it or not, The Guest was one of the films I was most excited to see at Sundance while also being one of the films I was most apprehensive to see. You must think that sounds like crazy nonsense! I really loved director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s previous feature, You’re Next, and have been a fan of most of the short films they’ve been creating the past few years. That’s EXACTLY why I was so nervous! Film critics (dorks) were the only ones claiming that You’re Next was “overhyped” or whatever other stupid term you’d like to use that means they were listening to other people’s opinions instead of forming their own. Based solely on the director/writer combo’s body of work up until now, I was nervous that their career could make The Guest and my excitement for it be overhyped. I like their stuff, I expect to like more of their stuff, and then I might end up disappointed. The descriptions I had read of The Guest, citing it as more of a sci-fi thriller, which is reaching the edges of my genres of interest. Maybe it was helpful that I went in expecting to be disappointed, because what I got was a movie that was just as clever, fun, and entertaining as the duo’s last effort.

While dealing with the loss of their son, who died in military combat, a grieving family in New Mexico have an unexpected visitor. This visitor, or “guest” if you prefer, is David (Dan Stevens), who claims to have served with the son in the war. Considering how charming, handsome, and helpful David is around the house, our family has no problem letting him stick around without question. When daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) starts feeling some doubts about some holes in David’s backstory and spots some strange behavior, she decides to contact the military to try to verify some details. When the military official that she speaks to is denied access to his files due to them being “classified” and is instead redirected to contact a corporation, Anna realizes there’s more to David than she wanted to know and that David is only the first guest that she should anticipate. Then hilarity, and some choice cameos, ensue!

You don’t need to be an expert on sci-fi action thrillers to enjoy the shit out of this movie. The sense of humor and mild satirizing of genre films that loved about You’re Next are in there, so it definitely feels like other Wingard/Barrett collaborations. Considering how frequently the duo work with a handful of actors, The Guest makes you wonder where the fuck they got Dan Stevens from and if we can expect to see him in all of their upcoming productions. He’s mysterious, funny, has a way with the ladies, and is a shit ton of fun to watch. You all know that I consider Kurt Russell to be more of a deity than a mere mortal, but watching Stevens, I couldn’t help but picture a watered-down Plissken or Burton, which is also a credit to the tone of the whole film. However, if you prefer the familiar Wingard/Barrett faces, there are some fun cameos to watch out for.

In addition to having a sense of humor about itself, the film did play it relatively straightforward as far as the plot was concerned. The morning I saw The Guest, I also saw Wingard on a panel describing his inspiration for the movie where he said he was trying to combine the plot elements of something like The Terminator with the narrative structure of something like Halloween. Being more familiar with the latter than the former, I can’t really compare how close the thematic elements were to The Terminator, but the creepy stalker vibe definitely permeated throughout the whole film. Even though Wingard didn’t cite it as a reference, it also reminded me of John Woo’s Face/Off in the ways that the audience had more information than the characters in the film did. Watching David toying with this clueless family felt like Travolta toying with the family who didn’t know that wasn’t their real father.

Tying the whole thing together and one of the things that I think really ends up selling the tone successfully is the score by Steve Moore. You might know Steve Moore from his prog-synth band Zombi, whose music sounds like it comes straight from a 70’s horror movie. His music in this film is exactly what you’d expect and exactly what the film needed to sell the vibe of a tribute to 1980’s paranoia sci-fi. When his music would kick in during an otherwise tense scene, you knew that it was okay to laugh. During the action sequences, the music heightened the tension without distracting from the action on-screen and you would forget that this was a movie being released in 2014 as opposed to something you saw on television in the 80’s. The music, the action, the dialogue, the sense of humor, and the fantastic casting really all culminate into making The Guest a genre love-letter while incorporating some refreshing new ideas to satiate both genre and non-genre fans alike.

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