Adam Wingard and his regular screenwriter Simon Barrett have carved out fairly successful careers within modern genre cinema, and as with many of their peers they’re both children of the 1980’s, which I suppose explains the throwback stylings of their latest collaboration The Guest. It’s an action thriller with a slightly unpleasant streak that could easily be a remake of some forgotten straight-to-video movie from that decade, and it’s actually quite decent, with both writer and director brazenly paying homage to their influences and a cast in place that seems to have clearly understood the intended tone. There’s a little bit of gore, a sprinkling of cheese, some suburban family wholesomeness that eventually gets buried under a shower of bullets and plenty of nods to John Carpenter and the schlockier end of Cannon Films’ output. And while generally I think it’s high time that directors and their art departments thought a little harder about the way in which they’re going about recreating a 1980’s vibe – pink/purple neon colour palettes and synth-heavy soundtracks are quickly becoming old hat – I think this film shows plenty of other commitment towards re-creating the look and feel of the earlier decade, despite being set in the present.
Dan Stevens – hitherto best known for his work in Downton Abbey – plays the archetypal stranger from out of town, quickly ingratiating himself with the family of a young soldier who has been killed in action. For the mother and father (Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser) he’s an obvious replacement for their lost boy, and youngest son Luke (Brendan Meyer) takes to him because he’s a handy bully deterrent. So it’s down to goth daughter Anna (Maika Monroe – who recently appeared in an even more impressive retro genre film) to exhibit frostiness toward the new house guest – despite briefly being impressed by his physique – and it’s Anna who tips off the military when a sudden spate of murders occur in the local area. The film telegraphs the bad guy’s diabolical nature early on – Wingard is not shy about including long, evil stares into mirrors – and so it’s fun watching the family and other locals tiptoe politely around him, especially once we know just how diabolical he actually is. The story may be predictable and the characters, settings and scenarios are familiar – self-obsessed parents not listening to their teenage kids at home, jocks bullying nerds by the lockers, kids getting stoned at house parties, military dudes barking orders around boardroom tables, a creepy fairground backdrop for a bloody finale, etc. – but weirdly the film still feels surprisingly fresh; and despite being mostly serious it retains an underlying sense of fun right up to the final shot. Stevens makes for a compelling villain, and the British actor delivers what to my ears is a perfect American accent, which sums up the better-than-average quality here.
Directed by: Adam Wingard.
Written by: Simon Barrett.
Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Leland Orser, Sheila Kelley, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick.
Cinematography: Robby Baumgartner.
Editing: Adam Wingard.
Music: Steve Moore.
Running Time: 99 minutes.