Review: ‘The Guest’ is a Slick, Fast, Fun Thriller

By September 15, 2014
  5

If you’ve seen indie horror films like A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, or either V/H/S or V/H/S/2, then you’re already familiar with filmmakers like screenwriter Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard. Along with their frequent collaborators (like producer Keith Calder and a bunch of cool actors), Barrett and Wingard have been more than content to create the sort of cool low-budget horror concepts that generally go over really well at festivals and then again on home video. But no more. The gentlemen have temporarily turned their attention on something best described as (yes), a “thriller,” but thankfully it’s a pretty damn cool thriller.

The Guest is about a handsome, humble, and very decent man who goes to visit the mother of his deceased army buddy, gets invited to spend a few days at the Peterson household, and ends up…well, let’s just say that newcomer “David” quickly makes a resounding impact on the lives of Mom (Sheila Kelley), Dad (Leland Orser), and teenage siblings Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer). To the casual (or even astute) viewer, David (Dan Stevens) is a charming and helpful veteran who has nothing but good intentions.

Well, obviously that’s simply not the case. David is, of course, hiding all sorts of secrets, but what works best about The Guest is that this ostensibly shady character is simply very likable. Could David simply be lying about his time spent in the war for personal reasons? Certainly. Or maybe he’s a charming lunatic! Or perhaps he’s telling the truth but has some old skeletons hanging in the closet anyway. Barrett and Wingard take clear pleasure in delaying the answers for as long as possible, which allows the first half of The Guest to feel like a very dark version of Uncle Buck — and it allows the hyper-kinetic third act to carry some emotional weight.

THE GUEST

Little things like tension, character, and the aforementioned “emotional weight” mean a lot, and doubly so when you’re watching a film that’s this linear and straightforward in the narrative department. We grow to like the Petersons very quickly, and it’s established early (and often) how cool David is, but since this is not a fluffy romantic comedy, well, things are going to get ugly once David’s stories spring a few leaks. The villain is nearly as appealing as the excellently resourceful Anna, for example, and that just makes the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” a lot more fun than a screenplay written in shades of strictly Good Guys vs. Bad Guys.

As a director, Mr. Wingard has clearly stepped his game up, at least in a purely visual sense, but he hasn’t lost his touch for expeditious storytelling and frequent doses of very dark humor. At its best moments, The Guest is a character study of an enjoyably inscrutable character, a fast-paced thriller with moments of shocking violence and legitimate intensity, and a “whodunnit” that’s actually more of a “whydunnit.”

Toss in an excellent lead performance from Mr. Stevens, some fine support work from everyone mentioned above (plus Lance Reddick as the only high-ranking official who knows David’s secrets), a few “indie cast” surprises that work very well, and some truly kick-ass music, and that’s that. Congrats to our old pals Barrett and Wingard for trying something quite a bit different from “straight” horror, and also for pulling it off so darn well. This is a slick, fast, fun thriller flick.

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Scott Weinberg
Writer. Movie critic. Producer. Semi-actor. Wise-ass. Film advocate. Horror geek. Cat fan. Twitter junkie. Follow me at @scotteweinberg.