Movie Review: The Guest  

Originally written for the UWM Post here:

Throwback. Throwback. Throwback. “The Guest” is an old school thriller.

The film brings to mind a time when movie stars didn’t wear tights and capes, only the cold hard inhuman abs of an American hero. Armed with the arsenal of a small South American country, they could break necks and hearts for the red, white and blue. I’m talking about the classic 80s hero. The Guest channels these influences into a fun, modernly unsettling good time.

The 80s vibe presented in the film lends itself easily to a terminator comparison, with a budget just stringent enough to ensure a concentrated experience. There is even a Halloween themed school gymnasium finale, with moody “school dance lighting.” A hallmark of 80s films, real liquid prop blood, makes many appearances.

The film stars Dan Stevens as David, who is famously known for his role as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey. The movie constantly asks the audience to evaluate exactly who David is; his motives, his purpose, and his general character.

David is a recently discharged veteran who enters the film unannounced at the home of his deceased friend’s family, the Petersons. He brings them the last words of love that they so desperately want to hear. The family is decimated from the loss of their beloved son and brother. Naturally David fills this void and finds himself invited to stay for a little while so he can get on his feet. David is a social engineer, everybody’s best friend. He soon enters and enriches the lives of each of the family members. Between David’s penchants for violent problem solving and a string of possibly related deaths, things soon spiral out of control.

The film is told largely through the lens of the Petersons, of whom David is a house guest. Keeping the stakes small and dramatic means the budget of this film does not present too large a limitation.

David is a possible Captain America. Where the recent Marvel films Captain America is shown as almost naively warm, David is an exploration in polite steely distance. He is a death machine. This role is an opportunity for Stevens to stretch his acting legs and really show off. Playing a man he isn’t to get what he wants. Stevens somehow got me to like David while keeping me unsure about what was happening behind that crooked smile and piercing blue gaze. Even when he’s menacing, the David we see never breaks from his all-American patter. He’s upfront, even when he’s about to kill someone. It is a wonderful tightrope that Stevens walks.

“The Guest” marks director Adam Wingard’s first foray into mainstream film, connecting back to his horror roots. Fans of VHS and the film “You’re Next,” will really want to see this film which really hits its stride. Inspiring dread in sequences leading up to the 80s style action violence.

“The Guest’s” aforementioned bloody Halloween finale proves Wingard has visual style and a stellar sense of tension. He is definitely someone to watch in the film industry.

“The Guest” is a competent thriller that punches above its budget to great effect. In the hands of a lesser actor, David would not have the eerie calm and tense, jilted quality that marks this film like a hot brand. Dan Stevens and Adam Wingard have done some incredible work.

“The Guest” is currently playing at AMC Mayfair and Marcus Ridge Cinema.


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