Action thrillers seem like a dime a dozen today with the usual suspect of actors. Liam Neeson will be looking for someone that was taken and chop people in the neck. Denzel Washington will be charming while punching people in the face. Mark Wahlberg will look generally confused doing whatever he does. Idris Elba will be absolutely wasted and make us wish The Wire was never cancelled. Point being that when it comes to the thriller genre it feels like a lot of the same. This is what makes a movie like The Guest so interesting. Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett this is the duo’s first foray outside of the horror genre. Would some fresh faces help revitalize a stale subgenre? Let’s take a look.
Still reeling from the death of their eldest son, Chad, in Afghanistan the Peterson family is surprised by the arrival of David. Having served with their son he vowed to return to the Petersons and let them know that Chad loved them. Reluctant at first the family slowly warms up to the stranger when he improves their everyday lives. Slowly but surely this perfect house guest reveals a much more sinister side to himself.
Going into the movie the first thing I noticed was the aesthetics of the movie. One of the very first things we see is the logo for the production company Snoot Entertainment. The way it was presented reminded me of a long dormant 80’s company like Cannon or New World Pictures. This retro flair permeates through every second of the movie. From the second the title card appears we are greeted by a world immersed in solid, bold colors making the film feel almost dreamlike at times. The dreamy state of the movie is perfectly captured by the film’s soundtrack. With a score provided by Steve Moore the movie pulsates with a synth-heavy soundtrack. Even the pacing of the film feels like an older thriller. The pacing and filming techniques used give the movie an early John Carpenter vibe to the film. Most importantly, at least to me, is that while the movie feels older it never delves into parody. There’s never a character wearing neon green or trying to look like Judd Nelson. No it’s just a mix of cinematography and editing that gives the movie a nostalgic, retro-cool look that still feels a bit timeless.
The movie isn’t a case of style over substance though; far from it. Front and center of the movie is Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, The Fifth Estate) as David. Having never seen Dan Stevens before I was impressed with his range as an actor. From the very start he exudes a dangerous charm that you can’t help but find likable. You can tell that David is off; lit dynamite just waiting to go off, yet you can’t help but hope he works things out. The performance is absolutely engrossing. It helps that Dan Steven is surrounded by an awesome supporting cast with the most notable being Maika Monroe as Anna. As the rebellious daughter of the family she is written as a smart, independent protagonist who really is the one who pushes the narrative forward. On the other side of the coin is Brendan Meyer as her brother, Luke. He makes for an interesting contrast seeing as how he benefits the most and even approves of David’s actions. His reluctance to turn on David makes for an interesting dynamic when put up against his sister. Like You’re Next before it Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett assembled a great cast.
Also similar to You’re Next the writing is top notch. While no new ground is covered in the movie it does with excellent writing and a quick wit. Barrett is able to move from horror, action, suspense and even black humor without missing a beat. Nothing feels awkward or forced like a lot of independent genre films. Every character, no matter how minor, serves the plot. From the down-on-his-luck father to the angsty Anna and even David are likable. You understand why they do what they do and relate to them. Essentially we get a smart and clever script that is the perfect homage to the exploitation thrillers of the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Every year there is at least one movie that has me at the edge of my seat. A movie that has that special something that has me take note. Last year it was Pacific Rim, the year before it was Avengers and in 2014 it’s The Guest. The film rejuvenates the thriller genre by using a style of storytelling forgotten decades ago. The some great talent in front of and behind the scenes and an entrancing visual style this is easily one of my favorite movies of the year.