Plot | Afghanistan War veteran David (Stevens) returns from duty, visiting a dead comrade’s family to keep a promise. He is invited to stay for a while as they mourn, but is he who he seems?
Review | Part psychological thriller, part action horror (with a healthy side of black comedy), The Guest flows effortlessly from scene-to-scene, never outstaying its welcome over its hour and a half duration. The first act focuses on David’s introduction and integration with the Peterson family, whilst the second ramps up the tension with a series of set pieces that should telegraph exactly what the third act has in store. Whilst the finale is quite predictable (and isn’t quite as well executed as the preceding hour), the final fifteen minutes or so are brilliant, with nods to a few classic films in years gone by.
The last third being merely ‘very good’ (instead of ‘excellent’) is one of only a few small niggles that are barely worth a mention. The other is the introduction of Lance Reddick’s Major Carver, who seems to materialise out of nothing, yet is treat as an important person in David’s recent past. It is a little out-of-the-blue, though Reddick seems to relish effectively reprising his Fringe role for the time he gets.
Whilst Reddick is solid, and the family (Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser) better, this is truly a vehicle for Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens. A revelation in the lead role, his mysterious antagonist is one that will surely be remembered for years to come. Whilst he has his ‘cool’ moments (particularly the bar scene) and some funny lines, what really stands out is just how terrifying ‘David’ really is. Imagine The Terminator given the wholesome charms and etiquette of Chris Evans’ Captain America, then splice it with the simmering just-beneath-the-surface disconnected rage of Ryan Gosling’s unnamed protagonist from Drive. The result is equal measures frightening and utterly compelling.
Continued comparisons with Drive are probably a little wide of the mark, though they certainly do see some crossover in the soundtrack. Synthpop and darkwave artists such as Clan of Xymox and Sisters of Mercy are given places of prominence, adroitly deployed to complement the vibe of the scene(s). Juxtaposed with the excellent (sometimes jarring) score, the whole feature feels like it has been written in the 70s, filmed in the 80s and only discovered in the now.
In keeping with the generally retro vibe, there is a blackened humour present throughout. Where many films falter when balancing humour and horror, The Guest nails it spot on. You will laugh out loud, even during times of high tension and suspense.
Ultimately, whilst The Guest is in itself has a fairly generic storyline (it could easily have been lifted from any short story compendium of the 70s or 80s) it is refreshingly accepting of it. That is a testament to the writing, directing and editing of the final release – not to mention the mesmerising central performance.
The Verdict | The reputation of writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard is rapidly growing. With You’re Next, they received critical acclaim for a fresh take on the home invasion-come-slasher genre. With this expertly pitched follow up, they have reached a whole new level. We will also be remembering The Guest for the breakout performance of future star Dan Stevens – surely Britain’s answer to Ryan Gosling.