The Guest – Dan Stevens steals the show in this thrilling genre hybrid

The Guest (2014)

Inventive shorts in anthologies (The ABCs of Death (2012), V/H/S (2012) and V/H/S/2 (2013)), a home invasion thriller with a difference (You’re Next (2011)), and most recently an unexpected sequel (Blair Witch (2016)) have all gained director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett critical acclaim in the world of horror over the years. Yet it was their previous collaboration that firmly marked them as the ones to watch, despite it seemingly being miles away from the land of scares and screams. On closer inspection though, The Guest (2014) is another film in which the writer-director team both tear up and homage the horror rulebook, as well as a few other genres along the way.

However The Guest is a difficult film to define using single genre terms alone. A bizarre hybrid of a film, Wingard and Barrett cleverly subvert a number of genres throughout, in particular action and horror (specifically slasher films). They even include an unexpected nod to sci-fi. This unique mix results in a weird yet completely gripping film that is wholly unpredictable from start to thrilling finish. Yet they hold back on the strangeness of the story at first, Wingard and Barrett throwing us into the narrative with a slow and unassuming start. A ring of the doorbell at the Petersen home turns out to be David (Dan Stevens), a military man who was in Afghanistan with the family’s son, sadly killed in action. Finding himself welcomed into their home by Laura (Sheila Kelley), the whole family are soon enamoured with him, insisting he stay for a while. And that’s when things suddenly start to get crazy. Yes, similar to Wingard and Barrett’s You’re Next, there is more than one unpredictable twist throughout this particular tale.

Maika Monroe as Anna in The Guest...

With an increasingly peculiar story and an eclectic mix of genres, The Guest could have been in danger of collapsing under the weight of its many references, quickly turning into a tedious and unbelievable watch. Yet with the perfect fusion of Simon Barrett’s taut writing and Adam Wingard’s solid choice of direction, they completely sell the idea. Infusing the film with an 80’s horror and action thriller vibe – from the almost neon-soaked visuals to the fabulous, thumping electro synth soundtrack – Wingard creates an absorbing film universe that feels both fantastical and realistic at the same time. Alongside Barrett’s expertly paced script, Wingard gradually builds up the tension as the suspicions against David start to grow, resulting in a gripping, twisted story that becomes a brilliant adrenaline-fuelled piece of cinema in the run-up to its final act (an ingenious prom setting with a difference – evidence of Wingard and Barrett again invoking those 80’s slasher film references).

It is the performances throughout The Guest that also sell the story, in particular the brilliant Maika Monroe as Anna, the daughter of the family. Immediately likeable and a refreshingly resilient female character (much like Erin in You’re Next), she is a clever twist on the usual horror trope of the terrified blonde with no brains. With a similarly solid turn in horror film It Follows (2014) Monroe is certainly proving herself as one to look out for in the future. But as perfect as she is in her role, the performance that particularly impresses is Dan Stevens as the mysterious David. And to say he has undergone a bit of a transformation since his Downton Abbey (2010 – 2015) days would be an understatement… Charming and polite, Stevens completely excels as the mysterious Southern gentleman, ensuring we instantly warm to David. Yet Stevens also adds a terrifying, menacing undertone to him – an unsettling quality that is ever-present in his piercing blue-eyed stare, and that steadily grows as the story expands into something altogether more sinister. His terrifying performance is so brilliantly believable that even a madcap WTF ending makes perfect sense, despite what it may (or may not) reveal about his character – that is something left for us to decide for ourselves.

The mysterious David (Dan Stevens) charms his way into the Petersen family...

Refreshingly inventive, undefinable and unpredictable: these are all the reasons that make The Guest so fascinating to watch. Those expecting to see the usual horror or action film, or even a conventional ending, will only be pleasantly surprised by this. A mind-blowing movie that sticks with you for weeks after you’ve seen it, this is the sort of film that makes you fall in love again with the endless possibilities of cinema. After this and Blair Witch, it’ll be exciting to see where Wingard and Barrett head to next. Hopefully somewhere equally as thrilling.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on October 3, 2016.

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