The Guest (2014)

We're a long way from Downton.
We’re a long way from Downton.

“He’s Here to Help”

Directed by Adam Wingard
Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe and Lance Reddick

David (Stevens) appears at the door of the grieving Peterson family, explaining that he served in the army with their dead son. They invite him to stay and he tries to be useful, in particular helping the younger son Luke (Brendan Myer) defend himself against homophobic bullies. Soon however, the Petersons’ daughter Anna (Monroe) starts to suspect that there may be more to David than meets the eye.

She tries to get information from the Army and is told that David is dead, and at the same time triggers a response from Major Carver (Reddick), who shows up with a band of shooters for a confrontation which escalates into a massacre. David ably confronts his pursuers, but with his identity exposed, even the Petersons may not be safe from him.

What’s wrong with it?

The Guest contains few real surprises for the aficionado of the type, with David’s every action screaming psychopath, from his swift escalation to violence, through his on/off libido to his casual recommendation of murder-arson as a solution to high school bullying. Actually, I was a bit uncertain of the exact type and, coupled with his apparent immunity to the effects of alcohol, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, marijuana and Tabasco, assumed he was some sort of undead, but if you assume a pulse then there aren’t many big surprises.

David uses what must be the slowest grenade fuses in the universe, but the diners at the local, erm, diner are apparently sufficiently slow that not one of them escapes the ensuing explosion.

What’s right with it?

What the film does, it does very well. In particular, Stevens presents exactly the right mix of courtesy and coldness to make the character effective.

The film balances David’s helpful and sinister sides effectively, so that while he is clearly bad news, the viewer is still kind of rooting for him sometimes. Then he shoots some poor innocent and you’re all ‘whoa; okay. I kind of forgot about that for a moment.’

The finale is a hunt through the school’s Halloween dance maze, to a soundtrack of angsty goth-pop from a mix CD. It’s wondrously odd and a little bit 80s.

How bad is it really?

The Guest is a slick, compact thriller with just the right amount of explanation and intelligence to earn its more brutal moments. There are a couple of scenes setting up the arrival of Carter that sag a little, but I’m not sure it would have been better if he’d just shown up.

Best bit (if such there is)?

David accompanies Mrs Peterson to speak to the principal after Luke breaks a yardstick over a bully’s head. The principal starts to talk about zero tolerance and expulsion, before David points out that the homophobic nature of the bullying means that the school has been overlooking a hate crime. By this point we already know that David is a mass-murdering psychopath, but I was still punching the air. That’s some quality film-making right there.

What’s up with…?

  • The reaction time of the diners? Seriously, there’s like a ten second delay between pulling the pins on the grenades and the explosion, but no-one seems to be even trying to get out.
  • Dan Stevens? He’s usually so… nice. And English.

Ratings

Production values – The Guest proves the advantages of picking the right genre for your modestly budgeted movie, with the simple, practical effects of a violent thriller perfectly suited. It also makes good use of implied actions, such as when David, last seen on foot, drives up in a car with a bloody bullet hole in the windscreen. 3
Dialogue and performances – The script is good, with a few real standout lines as David lets his darker side slip (“They’re bigger than you, take a knife to school. If they take it off you and beat you up, set fire to their houses with their families in them. What’s the worst they can do?”) The only slight disappointments are the school bullies, who seem a little bit stock. The performances are excellent, with Dan Stevens leaving Matthew Crawley far behind. 6
Plot and execution – This is a slick, spare, tautly plotted thriller masquerading as dumb fun. 2
Randomness – There’s a sex scene thrown in practically for good measure, although actually it does serve to highlight David’s odd libido. Even the weird maze for the finale is set up as part of the Halloween dance. 4
Waste of potential – I’m not usually one for a straightforward psycho-thriller, but even for me this could hardly have been improved on without David actually being a vampire. 3

Overall 18%

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