First things first: I pretty much loved every single aspect of director Adam Wingard's The Guest and only give it a less than perfect score because while I love and revel in it, it certainly isn't something to be regarded as exceptional. It's not exceptional because it isn't necessarily innovative, but it is still highly entertaining and well-constructed because it knowingly draws from very specific inspiration. Horror movies of the late 70's and early 80's as well as the thrillers of the same decade infuse every angle of Wingard's tale of uncertainty. He plows over every moment in the film with his unabashed soundtrack fueled by synthesizers and one note tones that dispel any notion we should take this seriously. Instead, seasoned moviegoers will acknowledge this as an exercise in form, of style and take note of how every story, even the most generic of ones, can be made fresh and interesting with a unique directorial approach. The same was true of Wingard's previous effort, last years You're Next, in that it was a self-aware, goofy riff on the home invasion thriller. With The Guest though, Wingard has stepped up his intent in not confining himself to a single genre, but rather expanding the story possibilities to afford him endless opportunities while keeping the tone in check with those films that clearly inspired his childhood ambition to be a filmmaker. As the film begins we are introduced to David (Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey) and with only the 80's inspired soundtrack to overstate his subdued line readings we are immediately entranced into the world of who this man is and what his purpose might be. His surroundings are minimal, but his presence is immediately worthy of note and Wingard knows what he has both in terms of technique and in Stevens as a performer and with that he mines them to their full potential. Again, The Guest, isn't anything that should necessarily be celebrated as a triumph or as wholly original, especially in the wake of Drive a few years ago (which this film could easily draw comparisons to) but nonetheless it is a hell of a lot of fun and well worth ones time.

"David" (Dan Stevens) is a former soldier who makes himself at home in an unsuspecting community.
The Peterson family, made up of dad Spencer (Leland Orser), mom Laura (Sheila Kelley), twenty-one year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) and teenage son Luke (Brendan Meyer), are currently in a state of dissary after the loss of their oldest son and brother to the war. It is out of the blue one day that David shows up claiming to be a fellow soldier that was close to their son and who was with him when he died in action. Unable to turn away the promise of some type of closure that David might be able to offer, Laura invites him into their home and offers him a place to stay until he figures out where to go and what to do next. David makes some keen observations soon after acclimating himself with each member of the Peterson clan. Spencer is dealing with issues at work with a boss who was promoted ahead of him based solely on education rather than experience. Anna is in something of a belated rebellious stage in dealing with being twenty-one and still living with her parents and working a dead end job at a local diner. She has a boyfriend, but he doesn't seem to show much potential either. Luke is the subject of serious bullying at his school while Laura is still confined to moping around the house all day, unable to bring herself to be able to do anything more complex than laundry due to the thoughts of her lost son. In the wake of David's arrival things begin to change though. Some of these things are explicitly due to the influence and manner David displays when discovering more about the individual family members while others are of a more mysterious nature. David begins to clearly shape the outcome of certain challenges in each of the family members lives and while they seem appreciative if not a little befuddled by why this man is so willing to go to such lengths, it is seemingly what they needed to get out of their rut. Naturally, things begin to take a turn for the twisted when it's clear David is more than he admits to being ultimately leading to an all out bonanza of an action sequence.

The Guest, while wholly stylistic, hinges on the performance of its titular character. As this mysterious guest, Stevens brings what is necessary to set the film apart from any other low-budget actioner that is required to depend more on the character development and execution of its story rather than the size of its explosions. As David, Stevens is solemn and cooly wicked. You can see the nefarious look in his eyes from the moment we are first allowed to stare into them yet there is a modest quality to the way in which he quietly inserts himself into the humble family setting without disrupting the flow. David in turn garners the respect and admiration from each member of the family in a different way, putting on display his power without it being labeled as such. While the Peterson's are more or less completely taken with this stranger we as an audience are suspicious of him from the beginning due to the way in which Wingard frames him. As the plot progresses and we learn more about the origins of this questionable outsider I became slightly disappointed in its reliability on a certain Matt Damon franchise to answer necessary questions, but what saves it is the fact it never goes into too much detail and only uses the slight explanations as reason to set-up the bloody third act. What makes Stevens so compelling in the unraveling of his tale though is that again, we as an audience, understand who he is from that initial moment and from that point on we're just a waiting to see how far he goes. There is one particular scene in which Stevens plays these cool menacing characteristics to the hilt where he outsmarts a school principal without blinking an eye that perfectly encapsulates the unlimited power he has been entrusted, however mistakenly, with. As I sat back in this moment and grinned at how expertly Stevens delivered his argument and how swiftly the character transcended any notion that there might be some kind of hope for all of those that come in contact with him I was filled with a sense of glee that was quickly deluded by the fact that this charming, handsome, completely approachable dude was a total psychopathic killing machine.

Luke (Brendan Meyer) and Anna (Maika Monroe) discover there's more to David than meets the eye.
That being said, there is something for almost everyone to love about The Guest or at least it feels that way as soon as the credits begin to roll. I laughed at how ludicrous some of the edits and musical cues were, I jumped at many of the kills made in brutal fashion during the climax of the film and strangely I was genuinely moved to the point real emotions were involved. There is of course a natural cheese factor to the proceedings, but there is also something poetic about the way in which this saga of a man, lost among people he can no longer relate to, slowly unfolds. Like his lead character, Wingard comes off as a director who is effortlessly cool and able to deliver on what he wants to see happen without much trouble. Whether it be in the directors ability to transition just under halfway through the film into a much bigger scope while keeping things personal or in how he uses overly dramatic camera movements to emphasize David is more subtle than his circumstances give him credit for, it all comes off as completely intrinsic to the films DNA. With that, The Guest proves to be equally entrancing as it is entertaining and subsequently a film that I can see myself re-watching at home when nothing else feels like a good, middle of the road flick that is equal parts art and fun without comprising one for the other. I was both engaged in the fun that is intended to be had with the film while at the same time being able to acknowledge the craft at hand. Wingard uses the world of the familiar to create something slightly off kilter, something unique in its own right even if it isn't innovative or wholly original. Strip it down to its bare parts and it is a film built to exploit cliches in a somewhat loving manner that hinges on a lead performance full of charisma and devilish stares that radiate through the screen. The Guest is a film I never would have picked out of a line-up based on its plot summary alone, but with Wingard at the helm and Stevens in the lead its a film I'll be recommending to friends for a long time to come.


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