The Guest is a glorious return to mid-budget action movies | Movies
Hhaving marked their director-writer team with the home invasion thriller you are next, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett followed with the frenetic action-sci-fi hybrid, The Guest. Beginning as a mystery thriller, The Guest feels like a movie you forgot to rent in the early 90s, a glorious throwback to mid-budget action flicks that, in another lifetime, might have been made by cannon movies.
Freshly discharged, ex-Private David (Dan Stevens) shows up at the Peterson family’s doorstep, claiming to be a friend of their dead son. David kept his promise to visit the Petersons, but with nowhere to go and no immediate plans, the family insisted that he stay with them. Tensions are tense in the aftermath of their mourning, especially between Laura (Sheila Kelley) and her husband Spencer (Leland Orser), who also clashed with their daughter Anna (Maika Monroe). Meanwhile, their youngest child, Luke (Brendan Meyer), is being bullied at school.
David’s polite and helpful presence immediately acts as a buffer against the turbulent family dynamics and he sets out to befriend them all. Even Anna, initially skeptical, falls in love. But soon, David’s lack of sleep, his mysterious phone calls and his aptitude for sudden violence begin to point to something endlessly sinister. Suddenly, shots are fired, cars are run over and hand grenades are thrown; it’s a bold change of direction, but expertly done. Just when we think we know what The Guest is up to, the movie turns into the Universal Soldier sequel we didn’t know we wanted. (Not counting the five actual sequels we actually got.)
The guest, released the same year as It Follows, finds Monroe once again on the run from an unstoppable killer; at least in The Guest, she has more power over the spiraling situation as she attempts to uncover the truth about her family’s unexpected visitor. The government man is played by Lance Reddick, who has been piling up gravity on everything from The Wire to John Wick for years. And there’s the great character actor Orser, playing Spencer, who has made a career out of playing guys you’re never sure you like.
Stevens makes David a charismatic central presence, which we are initially on the fence about. His unshakeable self-confidence makes him very likable – but is he an anti-hero or the villain? Stevens is also believable as a badass, aided and abetted by thrilling and crunchy fight scenes. A one-on-many barre fight is a highlight and somewhat reminiscent of Terminator 2, as David takes down Luke’s bullies with clinical, almost robotic efficiency.
The final key ingredient is Steve Moore’s haunting synth score of Zombi, which vibrates through the film like a shimmering ECG. Combined with an electronic soundtrack featuring Clan of Xymox, Survive and Perturbator, The Guest finds a sonic identity as memorable as its visual identity. Music is so much a part of The Guest’s DNA that it even got a sequel earlier this year in the form of a soundtrack of a second part not yet filmed.
As the early mystery is replaced by a second-half adrenaline rush, The Guest shifts into a different gear. Don’t think too much about it, because the guest has no interest in messing with your brain – they’re only interested in getting your heart racing.