The Guest (2014) Review – Not as Well Behaved as You’d Think

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The Guest is directed by Adam Wingard and is based on a script written by Simon Barrett.  The pairing also worked together on the horror / thriller You’re Next (2011).  Unusually for a film nowadays it doesn’t appear to be based on a book and it’s not a sequel.  Makes you wonder if the film exec who green lit the project was asleep or drunk.  Either way let’s be glad it got made.

The film centres on the character of David Collins played by Dan Stevens who mysteriously turns up on the doorstep of the Peterson family.  The family has been dealing with the loss of the eldest son, Caleb, who died while stationed in Afghanistan.  His arrival stirs up painful memories for Caleb’s mother, Laura, (Sheila Kelly) which in turn causes the father, Spencer, (Leland Orser) to worry about the impact of his arrival.

However, his arrival seems to coincide with an upturn in the family’s fortunes.  He helps the younger son, Luke, (Brendan Meyer) deal with bullies at school and Spencer becomes regional manager after the untimely demise of his boss.  While David is accepted by the Peterson family a series of events leads to the daughter, Anna, (Maika Monroe) to query his behaviour.  Her inquiries with the army set in motion actions that will have consequences for the entire family.

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I am going to be very careful in how I describe the film because I am keen not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  The trailer gives an indication of what the film is about but it goes in directions that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.  The writer / director pairing have a background in the horror genre and you can see those inflections within the film, especially in the final act.

The film has a streak of black humour that becomes increasingly prominent and intertwines with a slightly odd 1980’s soundtrack that at times sounds too loud and intrusive.  The humour and soundtrack build hand-in-hand as the character and motivations of David unwind before your eyes.  Interestingly while we learn more about Sam and why he does what he does the film doesn’t attempt to explain all of the intricacies of the plot so the audience is left guessing at the end.

We known that David and Caleb were part of the same programme but just why did David choose to visit the Peterson family?  Just what did happen to Caleb?  Just why does the mysterious company featured in the film want to keep the existence of David quiet?  You’ll have to watch and make up your own mind.

Dan Stevens appears to have a lot of fun with the role and with just a narrowing of the eyes is able to portray the rage that lies beneath the veneer of good manners and kindly acts.  Monroe plays the most rounded and grounded character in the film while everyone else plays a different caricature.  While this would normally annoy me it works within the context of this film which is knowingly sending itself up.

This film is really good fun and was a pleasant surprise as it rose above the average stranger-at-the-door flick.  The black humour was well judged and the audience at the screening I attended laughed on a regular basis.  The Guest demonstrates the criticality of a film having the courage of its convictions and being true to its identity.

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