Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
For a film like The Guest, the promotion material does end up giving its potential viewer a dangerously mixed vibe. Progressive-straightforward home-invasion action thriller? Been there, seen it all. Additionally, the only expectational big-ticket here is popular television series Downton Abbey‘s Daniel “Dan” Stevens, whose last film was A Walk Among the Tombstones, released only very recently.
Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find out that there’s another reason to hit the theatres to watch the film: the director-writer duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, who previously won the critics over with their rather witty, self-aware homage to the slasher-horror genre in You’re Next. In what looks like a return to movie homages, The Guest makes it way looking – from its promotional material itself – like a snappy 80s genre film type.
The question though, is that is it really? For all I know, while some trailers have been extremely generic with the way their content is placed, there are others which are more suitable for the film. What struck me nevertheless – way before I watched the film – was that the makers were desperately trying to hide something very important, thereby obviously handicapping the trailer producers of a lot of key promo worthy shots (of which they’ve definitely attempted to use a good handful).
It could be a trap too; might I daresay. You go in expecting something and you come out getting something completely different. And while this can be a good thing, there’s loads of chances at it being a terrible thing as well.
What’s it About?
But ever since the knock on the Petersons’ door, the phase of the all-too-terrible seems to be gradually going away, as in enters David (Stevens). A friend and serviceman alongside their deceased son Caleb, David manages to win the hearts of the family by sticking to his one mission: making sure Caleb’s family would be A-Okay. Laura (Sheila Kelley; Matchstick Men) finds in him another chance to have her son back. Her husband Spencer (Leland Orser; Taken) finds in him a beer-bro he can vent life’s frustrations to. Their younger son Luke (Brendan Meyer; Tooth Fairy) looks up to him for overall support, and daughter Anna (Maika Monroe; The Bling Ring) finds him damn hot – for good reason.
Things are, of course, meant to change when Anna bumps into a discovery that in turn kickstarts a series of events that may possibly threaten the family’s very existence.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
So here’s the deal: most of the bare-bones plot is simplistic, and quite frankly, not very original. But when you realize this is exactly what the makers were going for, you’ll understand that whilst being an homage to such home-invasion type thrill-fests that used to release during the 80s, there are quite a few surprises in store that – frankly – you’ll expect the least. What works immensely in its favor is the crackling screenplay written by Barrett, supported also with a superior character graph of Dan Stevens’ “David”. And while most of the first half of the screenplay sets the tone of potential predictability, there’s always nuggets that jolt you out every now and then. This allows the viewers to be lulled into a feeling of knowing where this is going, only for the makers to gleefully shift gears and say, “Haha; Nope!” The riskiest proposition in here was that the film conceptually itself comprises of more than just one genre, thereby allowing either the opportunity to bend genres and meld with each other or lose it and fail miserably. Wingard-Barrett fortunately are in complete control here, knowing exactly what the movie is to have in store for the viewers, and some. The very graph of the film is set in the opening scene itself, in which we see a yet-unknown male jogging his way through the long and winding road (yes Paul, the reference was most definitely intended). Of course, the film takes many a complete detour in the coming scenes, but as the viewer will come to notice, it was obviously a deliberate decision to allow those detours to be there – almost like decoys that manage to distract us from the objective, leading us to believe a completely opposite set of notions before the tables are turned.
Wingard is an immensely talented director, as has been shown with You’re Next and his shorts featured in the horror anthology franchise V/H/S. Here, he takes on yet another challenge of setting himself up to (and setting us up to watch the movie) fail with his choice of fairly contemporary, predictability-inducing ingredients. But with the help of Barrett’s breathless, watertight screenplay, Wingard wins his way through and through. Coupled with the intelligent screenwriting is the almost quiet humor, hovering around for viewers to notice and laugh at. While the film starts off pretty seriously, there’s a progressive integration of an uncanny blend of part-natural-part-parodic humor every now and then – even, unexpectedly, in its elaborately set-up, intelligently filmed final act. Quite a bit of the humor, understandably coming out of the sheer questionability of events we’ve come to watch in films, is brought to life by Wingard’s sheer sense of timing – not too forced upon, and not too undercooked. Just bang on.
The movie is, for obvious reasons, supported by a mostly steady camerawork through and through. The cinematography makes use of a lot of daylight and space to let the sheer, creeping sense of loneliness set in every now and then. In fact, coming right back to the film’s finale, it most definitely is the dramatic lighting and usage of absolutely warm colors, with a hint of steel-cold, that sets the tone and grips you right through the end of it all. The makers of this film also take some absolutely bold decisions by bringing back jump cuts between scenes back in fashion. Yes, these jump cuts definitely call for an abrupt change in emotion, allowing the next scene to go in a completely different direction whilst providing more hints. The film adds elements of horror to its production design, by showcasing empty roads, lonely hallways and claustrophobically quaint surroundings. They fortunately don’t go on sinister-overdrive, and restrain it only to its atmosphere and calculated character revelation. Of course, there’s also the eerie music by Steve Moore lurking around, waiting to arrive at only the right moments.
If there’s any slightly glaring issue I have, it’s with the VFX compositing of the film. Gunshots and gunfire don’t look too real, as is with the case of some blood splatters – thereby decreasing the overall impact value of the action set-pieces in question. Here’s the thing though: that doesn’t really matter if you’re really into the movie. And fortunately, in my case, I was.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Dan Stevens is outright the star of this film, producing a complex blend of creepy and charming that hits the nail right on the head. The fact that he looks ridiculously good on screen is bound to have a lot of people swooning over him, but if you look past that, he successfully delivers a splendid performance he voluntarily digs his teeth right into, and how! Standing beside him is Maika Monroe, who is super confident and comes around to delivering a terrific performance by the last half of the film. Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser are perfect as the Petersons. While the former pitches in a sincere performance as the caring wife and mother, still mourning her loss, the latter is absolutely relaxed as the frustrated, alcohol-friendly husband. Brendan Meyer as the bullied geek-kid convincingly pitches in his part too. Others are efficient.
I think The Guest has been the hardest film for me to review this far, for its absolute dynamism in genre, and fear of spoiling any major plot points in any attempt to write through what makes this film what it is. But then, understand this: a film like this is a make-or-break feature, that if tilted even slightly, would lose all balance and fail.
Fortunately for itself and its makers, The Guest ends up being an absolutely impressive piece of filmmaking without even trying to be. Featuring a dazzling mixture of action, mystery and horror among other genres, whilst bracketed in the texture of the flavorful 80s, the movie takes up a fairly contemporary concept and turns it around with insane gleefulness. Add to that the superior performance of Dan Stevens and you’ve got yourself a strapping roller-coaster ride you’d probably never have expected out of this film. Goes to prove that you can damn well make that unabashed entertainer without sacrificing even an inkling of your vision.
Easily one of my favorite films this year, simply for having the guts to be absolute bonkers. Recommended.
Star Rating: 4 / 5
THE GUEST is now out on home video. Grab it physically or digitally through the below options.
|Physical Copy||Digital Copy|