The Guest is a thriller that knows exactly what it wants to be. Playful, kinetic and riotously entertaining, it’s a slick throwback to the sexy, noirish actioners of generations past, a winking tribute to the films of John Carpenter and other ’80s horror directors, as soaked in blood as it is stylishly lit in colorful neon. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, who so fruitfully toyed with the home invasion horror subgenre in You’re Next, have even more success tackling the action-thriller, emerging with an absolute blast of a film that could be held up as a new classic of the genre in a few years from now.
The kind of movie we’re in for is made clear from the get-go, as the title appears in bold, neon letters. We open on a man running down a country road, his movement brisk and almost robotic. There’s something off about him; even from behind, he doesn’t appear entirely human. The pounding synthesizer score comes in soon enough, adding to the sense of major shit about to hit the fan.
The man is David Collins, and his destination is the quiet abode of the Peterson family. David served with the Peterson’s dead son Caleb over in Afghanistan, and he promised Caleb on his deathbed that he’d visit and “take care” of the family – or so he claims. Though all seems normal at first, David’s almost hypnotic charm, coupled with some moments of terrifying violence, convince Caleb’s 20-year-old sister Anna (Maika Monroe) that something is very wrong with their new houseguest.
To say much more about all the wild twists and turns Wingard and Barrett take would be criminal. After all, one of the best facets of The Guest is how it zigs when you think it will zag, and how it transforms before your eyes from a standard thriller into something much funnier, weirder and delectably outside the box.
Even when it goes completely off the rails in its gory final third, Wingard directs with such zeal and Barrett’s script crackles so vibrantly that you won’t mind going along for the ride. The Guest is such a ballsy blast of badassery that its narrative faults fade away after a while and you won’t want to bother with some of the questions it leaves unanswered.
None of it would work without Dan Stevens, the Downton Abbey alum who completely reinvents himself as the titular guest. David, a Terminator-esque badass with a dangerous glint in his eye that exacerbates the eeriness of his clean-cut, all-American presentation, is an inspired creation. Impeccably coifed and toned, devastatingly handsome and quick as a whip, he’s like the Six Million Dollar Man as envisioned by Quentin Tarantino. And watching his evolution from enigmatic outsider to stone-cold killer is massively entertaining.
The rest of the cast is equally up for the ride. Monroe gives a simply fantastic performance as Anna, the reluctant heroine who one can only hope will star in all future genre pics like The Guest. She’s funny, believable and tough-as-nails all at once. In the smaller role of brother Luke, Brendan Meyer finds plenty of room to play around. As Anna’s grieving, gullible mother Laura, Sheila Kelly tugs at the heartstrings, and Leland Orser is aces as the jerk-off patriarch of the Peterson household. Finally, playing a late-to-the-game figure I won’t spoil the nature of here, Fringe‘s Lance Reddick looks like he’s having a blast.
Movies like The Guest don’t come along all that often, so you’d be well-advised to just accept it as one hell of a ride and simply buckle your seatbelt. Anyone who comes into the movie searching for a tidy story or complete narrative continuity is looking in the wrong place, but fans of cheesy, absorbing action pulp will find a lot to like in The Guest.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment brings The Guest home with a stellar Blu-Ray combo pack featuring a DVD as well as a Digital HD copy (both iTunes and Ultraviolet codes are included).
In terms of video, the Blu-Ray offers a near-flawless 1080p transfer that is faithful to Wingard’s every intention. The colors are bright and bombastic, the neon lighting intoxicating to witness and the balance between light and dark absolutely beautiful to behold. Flesh tones are natural throughout, and the amount of crisp detail packed into every shot is simply fantastic. In particular, the scenes set inside a shadowy haunted house, filled with fog and sinister shadow, are brilliantly rendered.
The audio, too, is top-of-the-line. The Guest‘s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track finds a perfect balance between the film’s pulse-pounding soundtrack (which includes masterful use of songs like Clan of Xymox’s “Masquerade” and Annie’s “Anthonio”), crisp dialogue and well-implemented background sound effects. This is a near-reference quality track, with only a couple of instances in which harsher sounds like a barking gunshot sound a little less impactful than they should. No tiny error is really worth commenting on, though.
The only place this release disappoints is in the special features. What’s there is decent – it’s just that one wishes more bonus material had been included on the release:
- Deleted Scenes (15:00)
- Q&A with Dan Stevens (2:32)
- Feature Commentary with Director Adam Wingard and Writer Simon Barrett
The deleted scenes are really nothing special, with a number of slightly different cuts and snippets of unnecessary footage. There’s one scene that deepens Anna’s relationship with her boyfriend, and one in which Anna finds a gun in David’s room, but there’s nothing that really improves the final cut. All that’s worth watching is a pretty mean “Clown Gag” in which crew members dress up as scary clowns to scare the crap out of Monroe and Reddick inside the haunted house.
The “Q&A with Dan Stevens,” unfortunately, is pretty standard fluff, with Stevens making a couple of insightful comments about taking on the part of David intercut with scenes from the film. The actor’s thoughts on the challenges of the role, as well as the tone of The Guest, are brief but interesting.
The real gem on this release, as you may have guessed, is the feature commentary with Wingard and Barrett. These are two incredibly talented collaborators, and it’s an unbridled joy to hear them share their enthusiasm for The Guest with viewers. Their comments on the shape of the film, influences (which of course included Carpenter), the visual feel of certain scenes and much more are worth hearing.
All in all, it’s easy to recommend picking up The Guest. It’s a sexy and stylish thriller, an absolute blast to watch from start to finish. Stevens is a revelation, while Monroe plays the part of action heroine to perfection. And from a narrative standpoint, it’s a thrilling inversion of the action-thriller genre, reverent and wry at once while also very much part of a genre unto itself. Especially with stellar video and audio in addition to a great commentary track, there’s no reason not to pick up this film as soon as possible.
Gleefully over-the-top, action-packed and delightfully self-aware, The Guest is the kind of high-octane pulp you wish Hollywood turned out more of these days.