The Guest – Film Review
After the phenomenal It Follows, I had high hopes for The Guest. It has a similar, 80s throwback style to it; director Adam Wingard’s previous film was the above-average slasher You’re Next; and Dan Stevens has ditched doughy Matthew Crawley and gotten cut as fuck.
Well, I suppose I deserve to be punished for my optimism.
TL;DR The Guest is stylish and slick, and has everything going for it. But a dour procession of obtuse characters, a mid-movie genre shift, and a non ending leave The Guest for dead. The Halloween dance finale almost saved it, though. 2 out of 5 stars.
Who doesn’t love mirror mazes and fog machines?
So the plot starts out fairly simply: David (Dan “here, grate cheese on me” Stevens) comes calling at the home of a family whose son was killed while serving in the army. David is a friend of Caleb’s (the dead son), and says he’s here to fulfill a request to check up on everyone. Despite some initial awkwardness, David manages to quickly ingratiate himself to the mum, dad, little brother Luke, and gets something of a flirtation going with a defensive Anna (Maika Monroe), Caleb’s sister. And then he starts bashing and murdering the family’s enemies/obstacles. Because he’s a considerate house guest. It doesn’t take David long to get his hands on an arsenal of weapons, while Anna unintentionally alerts some shady corporation to David’s whereabouts when she goes digging for info on him. As it turns out, David is some kind of experimental super soldier or whatever, and once his cover is blown and Shady Corp comes to track him down, he begins murdering everyone he’s interacted with. Mum and Dad, as well as some other townsfolk are killed before David tries to finish off Luke and Anna in a Halloween school dance and fun maze showdown. Anna and Luke manage to put him to bed. Or so they think, as the “ending” is just Anna exclaiming “What the fuck” as she witnesses David somehow walk away.
When will horror/thriller movie heroines learn to finish off the killer while they have the chance? Scream (the movies, anyway) did it four fucking times. Follow the example, people!
I think what irked me about The Guest was that I expected it to be something completely different. I thought it was going to be a Fatal Attraction/stalker with a crush type situation, except with David worming his way into the family in place of Glenn Close trying to lock down some dick. He’d start doing questionable, and then eventually homicidal favours for the family, and we’d cruise our way to a big showdown finale.
Instead, The Guest makes a shocking swerve halfway through with the reveal of David having been in experiments from Shady Corp. All the benevolent stalker stuff evaporates, and we’re left with some dully directed shootout sequences as David tries to cover his tracks.
Because massacring half a small town is going to really draw eyes away from you, David.
Why I hate this movie:
I commend The Guest for attempting to subvert the cliché of its setup. I only wish it had worked. The shootout at the family home, when Lance Reddick, the KPG (Shady Corp) suit, shows up with his strike team, is the low point of the whole thing. The huge gun battle jars heavily with everything else we’ve seen up until this point. And the action is staged and framed in a cheesy way (the bullets blowing through the walls just looks like cardboard being punctured). Maybe The Guest was going for a low tech, low budget 80s vibe for its action. But that doesn’t complement the seriousness of the rest of the movie.
Like, David follows this sequence with the brutal murders of Mum and Dad, before another shocking brutal murder of Anna’s best friend. And I don’t believe the tonal shift is intentional, because I don’t believe the action was intended to look janky. It’s a shame.
The characters are uniformly stupid and obstructive. Mum is a shaky little leaf who will do anything to have a reminder of her son around, no matter how bizarre it is; Dad is an alcoholic whose only role is to block Anna from doing anything smart; Luke is the first to observe David’s violence, and actually ends up liking it; and Anna, our hero, is an inactive slacker. Her greatest offence is when she finds out that David is supposed to be dead, and goes to share the news with her family, but then doesn’t because David is around and it would be awkward. She sits on her hands and waits until later, and Mum and Dad, predictably, don’t buy it. David is just like “Oh, they said I’m dead because I was involved in some top secret black ops shit. No biggie,” and Mum and Dad are cool with it. Jesus.
Luke actually ends up being the worst. Not only is he not that disturbed when David almost murders his bullies, but he verbatim admits to David later that he has assumed David isn’t who he says he is, and that he’s murdered his dad’s business rival. But it’s cool, because we’re friends. Fuck you, kid.
There’s some teasing and flirting between David and Anna, but it never comes to fruition. What a waste. David does get a sex scene with Anna’s friend, but it’s disappointingly brief.
David buys Luke’s male bullies a round of cosmos at a bar to bait them, and it works. Dudes, those are free fucking drinks. And cosmos are delicious.
Oh, and the ending is just a final insult to the audience. Unless Adam Wingard has already got a sequel deal set in stone.
But it’s not all bad:
Anna does manage to sum the movie up with the film’s best line to close things out, though: “What the fuck?” Indeed. And I am totally on board for a sequel, by the way. Now that I know what to expect.
Despite the whole being less than the sum of its parts, the parts themselves are still pretty fabulous. I expected Maika Monroe to back up on It Follows by being the shining star of The Guest, but Dan Stevens manages to easily overshadow her. It’s hard to believe that he was once Matthew Crawley, the cousin-loving heir of Downton Abbey.
He got really fucking hot, is what I’m saying. He only flashes the goods properly once (after he gets out of the shower and flaunts his shit to Anna), but God, it’s yummy.
Maika, herself, doesn’t do too badly. Anna spends most of the movie kind of just bumming around, but she manages to pull her shit together for the Halloween dance finale. She uses some smoke on the floor and her bloody boots to get the upper hand on David, who has just dispatched Lance Reddick, and shoots him with little hesitation. Naturally, he recovers and tries to choke her to death. But Luke has thankfully come to his senses by this point, and first stabs David in the back, then in the front. That’s some sibling teamwork.
David’s post-blown cover rampage is incredible. During the shootout at the house, he stabs Mum to death. He then escapes, and while he’s driving down the road, he notices Dad coming towards him. So he purposely crashes head-on into him, then shoots Dad point blank to finish him off. Unlike the cardboard walls debacle, this action sequence is much more satisfying.
He then tracks down Anna’s friend, the one who he banged, to the diner she works at and shoots her dead in front of several customers. But what to do about those pesky witnesses? Just roll a couple of grenades in as you leave. I said “Holy fuck” a couple of times during The Guest, but this was the biggest.
I appreciated that the movie never played coy about David. It’s clear from the very start that he’s evil as fuck. Our time is never wasted with that “is he or isn’t he” shit. Because it respects that we’ve watched the trailers, and we already know. It’s a lesson that similar movies could do well to learn from (The Boy Next Door being one I’ve seen just this year).
The song that plays during the final showdown is the Berlin Breakdown remix of Annie’s Anthonio. It is absolutely glorious. As soon as I recognised it, I started frothing like a fanboy.
Among the supporting cast are Carol from Gossip Girl as Mum; Joel David Moore as a stoner friend of Anna’s; and Ethan Embry as the gun dealer who David murders for his stash. I can’t say I was sad about seeing Aunt Carol take a knife to the chest.
The Halloween dance maze is a fantastic set piece.
Oh, and there’s a cool little descending sound cue that plays whenever David does something crazy and evil. It was unsubtle as hell and I loved it.
I really wanted this to be the equally glamorous sister to It Follows. You know, to really cement 2015 as the Year of Maika Monroe: Scream Queen. I suppose I’ll have to settle for a shredded Cousin Matthew showing casting agents everywhere that “Hey, I can do an American accent.” 2 out of 5 stars.