Last night I headed to a preview screening of the upcoming film The Guest starring British actor Dan Stevens. First things first, one thing is for sure – we’re not in Downton Abbey anymore Toto, but more on Mr Stevens later. The Guest is a psychological thriller/ genre slasher horror movie, directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett (who worked together on 2011’s You’re Next).
Set in dusty, sleepy American suburbia, the Petersons are grieving the loss of their oldest son Caleb, who has been killed in action in the Middle East. His mother Laura is struggling to cope, father Spencer is drinking more than you sense he used to, younger brother Luke is the school punchbag and daughter Anna is secretly dating the boy her parents do not approve of. In to this fractured family arrives David, who claims he not only served with Caleb, but was one of his closest friends, who was with him when he died and who promised to share with his family how he felt about each of them.
Although reluctant to accept him initially, David soon becomes central to the family, through cleverly identifying each member’s weakness and stepping in to help them with it (for example, if ever there was an advert for not bullying someone this is it). However Anna soon becomes suspicious of this mysterious, handsome stranger and begins to question if he really is who he says he is.
In order to enjoy this film you need to go in with an understanding of the type of genre film you are about to watch. If you are expecting a film along the lines of a modern action thriller, akin to the Bourne movies, then you’ll probably be a little underwhelmed as that’s not the sort of film Wingard and Barrett have sought to make here. Instead The Guest is an homage to the road movie / slasher horror VHS films of the 70s/80s and it’s not ashamed to flaunt it, with much success.
The Guest starts out as a fairly tense thriller. Despite his charming, polite manner, the audience senses David is hiding something and an uneasy atmosphere settles over the film. As the story moves along, so does the style and it soon becomes more akin to a cheesy old school slasher horror film. This clearly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Wingard and Barrett have executed the film perfectly for the genre, one they clearly have much affection for. It is tense, thrilling, disturbing, with scenes of violence, but also quite a few moments that you can’t help but find funny, whether it’s a ridiculous line, or an over the top shoot out scene, there will be moments when you’ll laugh out loud. During certain scenes I genuinely felt I had time travelled to another decade, such are the nods and winks to other similar movies. It’s even set at Halloween, complete with Halloween high school horror fun house.
It would be difficult for many actors to pull off the central performance in this style of movie, but Dan Stevens is utterly (and I admit surprisingly) fantastic. He convincingly switches from mild-mannered, charming young man, who you’d happily take home to your mum, to a frighteningly dangerous psychopath. In-keeping with the genre, there are a number of scenes that end on a close up shot of his face – as if watching a ticking time bomb that will inevitably go off at any moment. In fact, there are moments where he is almost cyborg-like, turning his head in ways that immediately made me think of Robert Patrick’s T-1000. He embodies the character of David absolutely and gives a very believable performance and as the 70s/80s horror elements kick in you are in no doubt that no one is safe in his presence! I did find the film had become a little too ridiculous by the end, but its last few climatic scenes are yet another nod to the past, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Also, shallow as it is, I can’t review the film without acknowledging how incredible Dan Stevens looks in it. A few years ago, the Downton star would have been an unlikely action movie pin-up. Not anymore. He is lean, suave and very very sexy in The Guest and the film’s makers clearly capitalise on this, as in one scene David emerges from the shower in just a towel. His American accent is pretty decent too. Maike Monroe is also very good as Anna, bringing a depth to the role that you don’t expect from the young, attractive blond, whose work as a waitress requires obvious shots of her in a sexy short outfit!
Much praise should also be given to the film’s composer Steve Moore, whose evocative music is perfect. It certainly made me think of films such as John Carpenter’s iconic Halloween and The Terminator, which is clearly the point.
The Guest is therefore a bizarre film. As a genre piece it is very good indeed, although there is a risk that some audience members may miss the whole point entirely. Personally I found it very entertaining – a great mix of action, tension, and cheesy silliness, with a brilliant performance from Dan Stevens, who will no doubt be seen in a whole new light after this film. Bond anyone? I wouldn’t say no!
The Guest will be on general release in UK cinemas from 5th September 2014 but here’s the trailer: http://youtu.be/y0E2Qh6wLS4