THE GUEST (2014)
Directed by Adam Wingard
I’ve just finished watching The Guest and, although I’ve been hovering over the ‘genre’ tickboxes here for several minutes now, I can’t seem to settle on one. Horror? Mystery? Thriller?
One thing I can tell you for certain, however, is that I just watched my film of the year.
As the opening titles kick in, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the duo behind the V/H/S anthologies and You’re Next are giving you another straight-up horror film with a side of home-invasion thriller for good measure. We open on a dry, dusty road. A man pounds steadily down it, heavy army bag on his back, his pace controlled and unfaltering. The title card flashes up accompanied by a crash of music, and the John Carpenter-esque retro horror tone that pervades The Guest is firmly established. However, screenwriter Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard have snatched those well-worn horror clichés from right under your nose, manhandled them, put them through a slightly dirty Rube Goldberg machine, and handed you back something you’ve never seen before. And what a thing of twisted beauty it is.
Following his discharge from the military, David (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey) visits the family of his friend and fallen comrade. After charming the family with his model good-looks and subdued magnetism, David is invited to stay for as long as he needs to. From the outset, there is something unsettling about David. Stevens walks the fine line between sexy and psychopathic with perfect grace, drawing viewers in just as successfully as he does the characters onscreen. At times, I wondered whose side I was actually on. He quickly becomes a firm friend to the family, sympathising with the downtrodden and unsatisfied father, casually flaunting his piercing eyes and sculpted abs in front of eldest daughter Anna (Maika Monroe), and setting himself up as a role model and confidante to teenager Luke (Brendan Meyer). David assimilates himself so seamlessly that, when the bodies start showing up, no-one could ever suspect the chiselled, stoic army hero.
It’s impossible to sing the praises of The Guest without giving special mention to the soundtrack. Chock-full of alternative rock, goth and post-punk tunes straight out of the 80’s, every song is a dirty, thumping compliment to the film’s retro style. Featuring, among others, Love and Rockets and Sisters of Mercy, it’s a soundtrack than anyone who grew up in the darker side of the 80’s will want to own.
The Guest has more than a few forays into classic horror, but delivers so much more than traditional tropes. It’s both reassuringly familiar and strangely new. The build-up is a gloriously slow burn, the dark humour is slick and well-timed, and the closing fifteen minutes are truly tense and gripping. At times, the performances by supporting cast and extras fall a little short, but, let’s face it, all eyes are on David from the outset.
The Guest is absolutely mesmerising and a real treat for genre fans.