Last year director Adam Wingard suddenly became a horror director of note with You’re Next, a film about the slow slaughter of the Davidson family trapped in a vacation home. Their killers adorn deliciously eerie animal masks, which highlight Wingard’s visual prowess for the detestable. Many, such as myself, falsely presumed that this effort was his debut, when actually he’d released four feature length films that involved top talent like Joe Swanberg (Happy Christmas), Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color), and E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills). The emergence of Wingard’s new film The Guest was of particular interest, as this low-budget filmmaker finally had more money to play with.
The film follows David (Dan Stevens), a recently discharged American soldier whose come to this quiet town to fulfill the last wish of his late comrade and friend. David devilishly pries his way into his friend’s family home and becomes involved with the personal lives of each family member. Over time, the family’s daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) becomes suspicious of David and a game of cat and mouse ensues. Strange and extremely overt measures are taken throughout the mundane beginnings of the film to make sure the audience is aware that this story is headed towards horror, despite its apparent domesticity. One instance is typical horror music that shrieks when the title of the film appears on-screen. There are plenty of other overt reminders that this is a horror film and that David is someone to be watched closely.
While viewing The Guest, I was surprised by how similarly it succeeded and faltered to You’re Next. Like in You’re Next, particular character moments are glaringly artificial and silly. One particular one pertains to the actions of the family’s son Luke (Brenden Meyer) and his motivation in telling David something (which will remain unsaid as this occurs near the end of the film). Luke’s actions are absolutely preposterous, which Wingard is clearly aware of, but why? The moment with the shrieking title felt as random as it did in Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods. Goddard’s film was clearly commenting on the genre, while WIngard’s doesn’t seem to know why it does what it does. I couldn’t understand if The Guest was supposed to be commentary or celebration, as it aimlessly wanders around the two with no apparent design. That said, this movie is super freaking fun.
Observing the cat and mouse game between David and Anna is thoroughly enjoyable, if only because many moments are scored by highly enjoyable and weirdly danceable indie music (perhaps electronic and synth-pop?). Dan Stevens is solid as David, bringing eccentricities to the character that are amusingly strange. The trajectory of the story is delightfully depraved; it had me smiling on the edge of my seat almost literally dancing in anticipation of abrupt violence (seriously: smiling and almost dancing, in anticipation of abrupt violence). This notably unique aspect of The Guest underlines its general spectacular creativity that comes in doses. Wingard keeps the film visually intriguing throughout, without being amateurishly over-the-top. He’s visually successful in the way this year’s Jim Mickle film Cold in July is, being highly enjoyable and elevating the film’s value despite the limitations of genre.
Overall The Guest actually winds up being quite similar to this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, being a fairly typical entry in its genre with spectacularly worthwhile flair. This film isn’t quite as generic or stylish as Guardians, and unfortunately it has more than a couple notably bland moments. It’s bigger and more intense than You’re Next, but not particularly more mature in its filmmaking. That makes The Guest something of a disappointment, but it is still wonderfully entertaining for those who can have fun in the dark crevices of their brain.