Review: ‘The Guest’ [SXSW 2014]

The Guest - Still

The Guest | Adam Wingard | SXSW 2014


There’s something so damn enjoyable about a movie that is has just the right amount of camp. It’s tough to find that balance between a somewhat serious plot and indulging in goofier tendencies, but if that balance is found the results can be a glorious good time.

Take The Guest, the latest film from the team of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (who made You’re Next). Our story begins with an Army soldier named David (Dan Stevens) who has returned home after being discharged from service in Iraq. The first thing he does upon returning is stop by the house of the Petersons, the family of a fallen solider named Caleb who David fought alongside and befriended. David promised Caleb that should anything happen to him, that he would comfort his family and remind them that Caleb loved them. The family is caught aback by his arrival, but are very welcoming to him.

What starts as a quick visit turns into an extended stay, as the family lets David into their family, almost as if he’s taking the place of Caleb. Mrs. Peterson (Sheila Kelly) and Mr. Peterson (Leland Orser) are glad just to have his presence in the house, as is their son Luke (Brendan Meyer) who is bullied at school can surely use an older brother figure. The only one who reacts oddly to David is Caleb’s sister, Anna (Maika Monroe). She can’t help find him attractive, but even she knows there is something way off about him.

Soon, the fun of The Guest is figuring out just what David’s deal is. We get hints in flashes as he helps take down the bullies who are bothering Luke, and then steal all the attention at a local house party that Anna takes him to. At first it seems like David is just too good to be true, but we soon learn that there’s something about him he’s not sharing, and the big reveal keeps you constantly on your toes. At first you feel like he will protect the family and at the very same time your scared that he may kill them. When you find out the army has been frantically searching for David, you’re not sure what to think.

The Guest is a winner because it plays with dark comedy but also the over the top nature of 80s action flicks, with a slight twinge for creepy thrillers. It’s a winning formula that Wingard and Barrett master perfectly. It’s just straight fun to watch it all unfold. There’s plenty of dark humor to found side by side with bloody violence that has no sympathy or remorse for anyone. Not to mention a soundtrack helmed by Steve Moore (of the band Zombi) who gives the film a cool synth-heavy soundtrack that’s deliciously 80s, somewhat reminiscent to the soundtrack of Drive. Then there’s some great cinematography from Robby Baumgartner, who captured one of the coolest scenes of the year in a high school Halloween maze. You’ll know it when you see it.

Without Dan Stevens, I don’t think this picture works. The Downtown Abby star is perfect as David, mastering the duel personality needed for the role. He’s also got a ton of charisma, a bonafide star in the making. It’s his movie and he delivers on every single level.

The Guest is one of the best times at the theater that you’ll have all year guaranteed. Let it indulge in all its pleasures and you’ll be rewarded. I can see it becoming one of the most rewatchable films in my collection. It’s that kind of awesome.

8.0/10