Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Language, some Drug Use and a scene of Sexuality
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Simon Barrett
Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser & Lance Reddick
Adam Wingard is a director whose projects either hit or miss. I was not a fan of his early films (HOME SICK and POP SKULL), but I’ve grown an appreciation for him thanks to a rise in quality and a knack for Simon Barrett (his constant screenwriter) putting a unique spin on old movie tropes. Their unconventional serial killer film, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, and simply balls-to-the-wall entertaining YOU’RE NEXT are both great. The duo’s segments in V/H/S and V/H/S/2 were genuinely frightening too. THE GUEST is their first foray into thriller territory and the results aren’t quite in the vein that one would expect.
The Petersons are recovering from the loss of Caleb, a beloved son and sibling to his family, in the Iraq war. Then comes the sudden arrival of David, a charming young man who served in Caleb’s squad. Offering comfort to the mother, a drinking buddy to the father, a protector for Luke (the bullied son) and a watchful guardian for Anna (the rebellious daughter), David becomes everybody’s best friend. However, not all is as it seems. When Anna begins digging into David’s past, it looks like he’s not who he claims to be. In fact, David may be someone whose presence is a danger to the family in many ways.
The story is executed in two very different styles, depending on which half of the film you’re watching. The former offers an almost Hitchcockian level of set up with some real entertainment value to boot. The latter is where things begin to fall apart at the seams. This isn’t a horror film, much like the ones the duo have become so famous for in the independent scene. Props to Wingard and Barrett for exploring some unfamiliar territory, but that’s no excuse for the level of clichés and silly moments that litter the second half of the film.
The film has professional production values and sports the least amount of shaky-cam of Adam Wingard’s films (which is usually a pet-peeve of his detractors that I’ve noticed). Some of the action scenes are fairly well done and the build-up in the first half is massively entertaining. That’s about all the positives I can say about THE GUEST, because the script is a mess and the execution is downright bad. There’s no beating around the bush on this one. The explanation of the true identity of David is vaguely given. In another movie this may not have been a problem. However, when so much shit is hitting the fan and the mystery of who he is has been plaguing the audience for the first hour, I find this to be a pretty big problem.
Then there’s the performances themselves. Again, it depends on which half of the movie you’re viewing. For the former, it’s decent enough. Dan Stevens comes off as a likable stranger harboring something dark inside, as hinted at by the long sinister stares that end a few scenes to ominous music. In the second half though, he goes so far off the edge into over-the-top territory. The same can be said of the other cast members, who either become idiots or annoyances (in the case of Brenden Meyer’s character, Luke) in the latter half of the film.
My main issue with THE GUEST is that it seems to do a switch-flip in tone halfway through the movie. It’s half Hitchcockian suspense thriller and half predictable action B-flick. The combination doesn’t work well for the film as a whole. It seems as though, despite the superior production values and lack of handheld camera work, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett have taken a step backwards in every respect. The ending doesn’t do the film any favors either. This might be a somewhat serviceable effort from a first time director, but from the pair that brought us YOU’RE NEXT and two segments in the V/H/S series, this should have been so much better. It felt like they weren’t trying and gave up entirely by the time a slow-motion shootout was taking place. A disappointment to say the least.