The Guest (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
7Jan/150

The Guest (2014)

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The Peterson family hasn't been the same since the death of their eldest son, Caleb, in Afghanistan.  David Collins, a man who served with Caleb, arrives at the Peterson residence with tales of their son.  Soon after he's welcomed into their home people in the community start dying under circumstances as mysterious as they are violent.  Is David just a soldier, or is there more he's hiding from the Peterson's than he's willing to let on?  Adam Wingard directs The Guest from a screenplay written by Simon Barrett and stars Dan Stevens.

Any other solutionThe Guest is, in strict cinematic terms, a big damn hoot.  Imagine if John Carpenter shot Halloween with the same playful mindset that he brought to Big Trouble In Little China, and that will put you somewhere in the ballpark of how effective The Guest is.  Even when removed from the obvious '80s influences, The Guest is a stylish and confident film that shows how much Adam Wingard has grown between features.  I liked Wingard's previous film You're Next a lot, but most of that had to do with the surprises its screenplay had in store.  The Guest shows Wingard moving to the next level.

Part of the success of The Guest comes from a near-total abandonment of the horror that has punctuated Wingard's previous efforts.  You're Next certainly had some horrific elements, but its real strength was in the pitch-black comedy of manners that formed the core of the film.  His more overt horror contributions to V/H/S and V/H/S/2 weren't very strong (and that's putting it politely).  The Guest is a thriller, not a chiller, and combines the framework of a slasher with a full-on embrace of evil American machismo to highly entertaining effect.

Dan Stevens' performance in The Guest should earn him the sort of edgy, dangerous roles Dennis Hopper used to get.

Dan Stevens' performance in The Guest should earn him the sort of edgy, dangerous roles Dennis Hopper used to fill.

No mention of The Guest should go without heavy praise of Dan Stevens in the titular role.  Wingard has a talent in selecting lead performers who have a way of carrying a quiet menacing authority around the set.  Stevens, who didn't exist to me prior to this role, is stellar.  He's able to hit that sweet spot of tightly coiled aggression and brutal humor.  Some scenes have him spring from a smile to having murder in his eyes at the drop of a pin, others watch a slow transformation overtake his body and face.  The rest of the performances range from passable to good, but it's easy to see how they would shrink to the background in the face of Stevens' complete command of the set.

Wingard directs with a bucket of primary colors that present a number of striking compositions.  I liked how Stevens' David is lit with an unnatural tinge to his body, as though his physical condition is a little too perfect for the run down buildings that he finds himself in.  Deep purples, greens, and reds create solid shafts of directed aggression, be it playful or violent, as David directs his intense gaze toward the denizens of the town.  David is someone who's able to divide threats up with ease and enjoys his abilities, which inform Wingard's decision to use such sharp and evocative coloring.

The Guest is a film of so many big emotional and physical confrontations that it's a pleasant surprise to see a lot of subtle visual touches on display.  I loved how David is a constant threat even at rest with Wingard using a perspective to make it seem as though David has a knife at Mr. Peterson's (Leland Orser) throat, despite the decent space between the two.  There's also a nice touch when Wingard rotates the camera around the performers as a way of exposing their dual emotional cores.  One early shot explains the youngest Peterson sibling (Brendan Meyer) as he's picked on at school and he seems to be crying, only for the camera to circle around his hunched over body and see his eyes filled with murder.

Pictures: removing any doubt about who the object of desire in The Guest is.

Pictured: the removal of any doubt about who the object of desire in The Guest is.

The Guest also signals the next step in the collaboration between Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett.  Barrett doesn't quite make the same leap in quality with his writing as Wingard does with the direction, but that doesn't lessen the many sly touches in The Guest.  David is written as a sort of uberman, the dream American soldier who can get things done abroad and at home.  But the dream soldier is still an element of destruction and we watch as this uberman takes out weaker American symbols, like the middle-manager father or former cheerleader townie, with his strength and skill with a gun (David's philosophy, "I'm bigger than you.")  The emphasis on American military strength breaks the other classes, who still can't help but admire the man as he picks them off.  It might be easy to start rolling eyes at other aspects of the screenplay, like the introduction of a conspiracy involving David, but they're done at such a breakneck pace that it becomes another joke.

I giggled a lot through The Guest, felt a gnawing sensation grow in my stomach along with the soundtrack, and gasped at some of the twists Wingard threw in.  Even if The Guest's primary contribution to the world was showing what Stevens is capable of it would have been a success.  The dreamy lighting, throbbing soundtrack, and nearly perfect humor make the experience sweeter.  The Guest shows You're Next was no fluke for Wingard, and I'm almost salivating at what he might do next.

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Tail - The GuestThe Guest (2014)

Directed by Adam Wingard.
Screenplay written by Simon Barrett.
Starring by Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, and Lance Reddick.

Posted by Andrew

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