David (Dan Stevens) is a gorgeous, beautiful hunk of dudemeat sculpted out of the finest marble by the Gods above. He’s also a soldier returning from active duty and paying a visit to the Peterson family. The Petersons are still grieving over the recent death of their son Caleb, who served alongside David. David is polite. He doesn’t eat or drink much. He rarely sleeps. His sole mission is to help the Petersons with anything they need. Whether it’s helping their son Luke with school bullies or lending his ear to dad as he rants about getting passed up for a promotion, David just wants to make their lives easier. Their daughter Ana begins to suspect David might not really be who he says he is. And then some people wind up dead.
The Guest is an action/slasher/thriller/black comedy that exists in a world occupied by neon lights and synth scores - an alternate universe where Halloween and The Terminator are real. A world in which a single unstoppable force destroys everything in his path that stands between him and his mission.
Dan Stevens plays David as a wholesome, aww-shucks down home gentlemen who is as charming as he is eager to help. He's a well-mannered Adonis who was genetically engineered in a lab to bring out my latent homosexual desires and in turn disappoint my father in ways he could have never dreamed of. You want to like him. You want to love him.
You want to hold him. He’s the protagonist in every single romantic comedy where a simple country boy finds love in the big city. Every time we’re tempted to get on David’s side and love him, there are shots where nobody in the scene is looking at him. The smile on his face leaves as quickly as it came and his expression becomes blank and cold. As soon as all eyes are on him, he snaps out of it and gives a hearty “yes ma’am” with a matching smirk.
|It's hard to tell if he's being honest because I'm too busy getting lost in his eyes|
It’s not just the fact that you know he’s hiding something. Plenty of movies have done that. It’s not that he’s suppressing a killer urge a la The Stepfather and he’s going to murder this whole stupid family when they find out his dirty little secret. What makes him different is he thinks he’s doing the right thing. When he, a grown man with military training, beats the shit out of high school bullies in a bar, he thinks he’s making a positive difference in Luke's life. As the audience, you’re not exactly sure what to make of David. You don’t quite agree with what he’s doing, but it seems like everything he’s doing is done in the name of helping the Petersons. Sure he’s handing a switchblade to a kid who’s not old enough to drive, but he’s just trying to keep him safe, right?
You spend the first two acts waiting for shit to hit the proverbial fan. You know you’re not watching a movie where the big twist is he’s just a super helpful dude and he gets everyone high paying jobs and Luke becomes homecoming king and David returns to his home planet once he’s no longer needed. You know sooner or later his past is going to get called into question and someone is most likely getting shot, but Stevens plays the character so genuinely that you want him to be who he says he is. You know something is off with him from scene one, but you still want to believe he’s just a super hot, ripped, handsome dude here to help this grieving not as attractive family. And then a super-secret high-level military official learns he’s alive and assembles a strike team, but that’s another story. Maybe they got him confused with another David. My David would NEVER do that, just look at him. He’s a 10 helping out a family of 6’s, no one that charitable could be the target of the nameless military government organization.
Stevens carries the movie so I’m not going to harp much on the family, but I just want to say how much I appreciate that they’re real characters dealing with loss while attempting to go through their normal lives in a realistic way. David seamlessly works himself into the individual lives of mom, dad, and Luke (not Ana, though. Teenagers, am I right?). They play an important supporting role as the catalyst to the third act, and you don’t hate them all like in You’re Next. Their relationships with David feel real and sympathetic. At no point are you rolling your eyes at any of their performances and hoping David snaps and murders them. I can’t remember wanting a monologue to be interrupted by a man in a sheep mask with a bow and arrow, and I can count the movies that wouldn’t be improved by surprise crossbows on one hand.
This is twice now that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett have made a movie specifically for me and it just so happened to get released for the rest of the world to see. The duo have improved significantly over such a short period of time and it’s nice to see them venture past horror movies and anthologies.
What begins as a slow-burn thriller evolves into a bonkers action movie. The third act might lose some people, but I’m not one of them. Any climax that can be described as “redonculous” is going to end up being a recommend 10 out of 10 times. The Guest builds and builds and builds and then takes a one way trip to Sillytown. Every bit of insanity is intentional, but at no point does the film feel the need to point out how clever it is or to stop and ask “hey guys, isn’t this crazy????” The humor plays because it’s genuine.
It’s not for everyone (it’s just for me, remember) but the kind of people who would be into it will love it. It’s just fun. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it’s a fun mix of horror and action. It makes no bones about what kind of movie it is and never falls into the trap of feeling like a 90 minute nostalgia piece that works better as a Grindhouse trailer.
Homages are a delicate subject. It’s difficult to explain the nuances of the movies you loved as a kid, much less replicate them in a meaningful way. It’s a genre film (well, five genres) that celebrates being a genre film in every frame. It doesn’t matter that the plot kind of falls apart at the end because I’m having so much fun immersing myself in this neon lit world. Like their previous film, The Guest is great at being exactly the kind of movie it is while surpassing other films that try to do the same thing. If you read this blog and have similar tastes, you’ll feel like it was tailor made for you. The climactic final showdown takes place in a Halloween themed maze for God’s sake. Even if it doesn’t blow you away immediately, the movie will stay with you and grow on you. If not, the soundtrack will.