NOTE: Re-printed from our 2014 Sundance review.
Slam Drive and Stocker together, rub them down in a spicy 80’s genre marinate and sprinkle with mesmerizing performances and dollops of camp and you have The Guest. Like a turducken of genre, Adam Wingard‘s latest is a campy horror movie stuffed inside a hoodwinking Canon action flick and deep fried in the latest brand of Bourne-style thriller. It’s clever, tense, uproarious, and hypnotizing nearly every second.
Coming off the success of You’re Next and the crowd-pleasing anthology V/H/S films, Wingard has assembled another cast of “where did these people come from?” talent. Dan Stevens is absolutely magnetic as the titular guest and from his vacuous eyed stares to his charismatic domination of conversations, he oozes character. You might recognize Stevens from Downtown Abbey but his turn here is a reinvention and could signal the birth of a true star. While youngsters have a floppy tendency to detract from the overall thespian landscape, newbies Brendan Meyer and Maika Monroe each hold their own, elevating cliches into compelling characters.
Wingard and scribe Simon Barrett admit in the writing process, the film was inspired by Terminator and Halloween, an unlikely combination but you can see the influence bleeding from both. By transcending a single genre, The Guest is able to riff on the tropes of nearly all mainstay film culture. But don’t confuse homage with mocking, there is artistry present here that escapes cheap imitation, a fact that garners such a spectrum of emotions. The fact that the film’s mood can change on a dime depending on Steven’s facial composure is a sure sign of its thematic success. The Guest may not be deadly serious but it’s never not deadly funny. We laugh because its familiar and yet new; a crossroads of homage and invention.
Completed in a mere 31-day shoot, the technical aspects of Guest shine as bright as Stevens immaculately pearly chompers. The throbbing soundtrack is a living heartbeat, becoming a secondary character that informs the laughs and tension in equal stake. Gorgeous sets born of Susan Magestro make up for the otherwise bland middle American landscapes with a final Halloween-themed set piece that was exactly what one hopes for.
When all is said and done, The Guest is 30-caliber entertainment, mainlining laughs, thrills, and excitement like a junkie on a bender. A step forward for the already majorly competent Wingard, this kind of genre movie reminds us of just how much fun a time at the theaters can be.