Rightly selected as the opening salvo of this year’s well-attended 15th Film4 FrightFest in London, fervently followed American genre director Adam Wingard’s The Guest (2014) had the difficult task of coming after the excellent besieged family bloodbath You’re Next (2013), which had audiences howling with delight back in in 2011. The Guest once again sees a group of people under threat in their own home, but on this occasion the danger comes very much from within. Wingard’s latest was warmly received after its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and it’s easy to see why – gleefully channelling B-movie pulp whilst simultaneously lacing it with a delicious self-awareness.
Downtown Abbey’s Dan Stevens plays considerably against perceived type as the titular visitor, a recently discharged soldier named David. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, tanned, toned, and clad in designer stubble, he appears on the doorstep of the Petersons with wholesome intentions; to pass along the love of their son who was killed in action, and died in his arms with their names on his lips. As the charming stranger slowly inveigles his way into the family’s affections, however, it becomes quickly apparent that there is more to the Iraq veteran than meets the eye – particularly when the Petersons’ fortunes take a sudden upturn as obstacles conveniently disappear. Whilst teenage son Luke (Brendan Meyer) appreciates help with school bullies, his older sister Anna (Maika Monroe) remains suspicious.
Events proceed with a fantastic streak of deadpan laughs woven in and around a retro synth soundtrack – the mounting tension is supposed to be sinister to an extent, but is also a sly joke that the audience is in on. Stevens is excellent both as the cordial house guest and the brooding time- bomb ever present beneath his earnest veneer. Enormous fun is had by all throughout a winking opening half before the arrival of Lance Reddick’s Carver – who is intent on taking David down, no matter the cost – sees the pace pick up, a nastiness rear its head and mayhem ensue. The latter section’s lurch into something more akin to full blown homage may lose some viewers, but others will be more than happy to luxuriate in the giddy fun of the blood-spattered high school- set finale. Supposedly inspired by a double-bill of Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Cameron’s The Terminator (1984), Wingard’s influences are far more wide ranging that that with almost everything recalling some past schlocky video nasty or other. Fortunately, the film manages to combine these to great effect and as long as audiences go with the flow then The Guest should prove a popular night at the movies.
This review of The Guest was originally published on 24 August as part of our extensive Film 4 FrightFest 2014 coverage.