Adam Wingard is one of my favorite filmmakers working in film today and he almost always works alongside Simon Barrett, a cuttingly funny and witty man who knows how to churn out a damn good script. Wingard and Barrett pull off some amazing feats together, and “The Guest” is another notch in Wingard’s belt that oddly enough doesn’t get as much mention as his banner horror film “You’re Next.” Granted, I love “You’re Next” and have seen it at least two hundred times since it arrived in theaters, but “The Guest” is such a unique horror thriller with a premise that’s very socially relevant without ever being preachy.
Most recently I caught “Class of 1999 II: The Substitute” in which Sasha Mitchelle plays a robotic like substitute teacher who believes the best way to discipline students is by snapping their necks and reducing them to corpses strewn around his school. “The Guest” is shockingly similar in tone and premise, where we meet the perfect soldier who is dedicated to his mission above all else. Dan Stevens is fantastic as a charming, good looking, and very valiant war veteran who arrives at the door step of the Peterson Family one unexpected afternoon. Known as David, he’s a blue eyed, blond young man who is more than happy to ingratiate himself among what becomes his surrogate family. And soon enough he even begins to insinuate himself in to their lives.
Dan Stevens gives a powerful performance as a character who is supposed to bring us through the motions from the moment we meet him. At first he’s this very charismatic and nice veteran who kind of looks like a more bad ass Captain America. But the moment he begins to reveal darker shades about himself, he is so much more an unstoppable killing machine like Michael Myers sans the pale mask. Wingard and writer Barrett work hard in making us like David before turning the screws on us and turning him in to a relentless killer. He isn’t just a guy who happened upon the family of his old army buddy, but seemingly preys on them the more we learn about him.
Director Wingard features so many memorable moments with Stevens who is allowed to show how crafty and clever his character can be. When he’s on our side we can’t help but enjoy as he lays waste to a group of bullies that delight in tormenting only son Luke in a crowded bar. But the moment he begins turning on our protagonists and indulging in a cat and mouse game with savvy daughter Anna, we suddenly fear for our lives a great deal. And that’s because, well, we’ve seen what he can do when pitted against people that he doesn’t like.
Stevens performance matched with excellent turns by Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer constantly keep “The Guest” a biting and memorable genre offering that could work as the beginning of a great movie series, or a deliciously one off tribute to those eight part slasher series when the killer never stopped coming. Director Wingard obviously gets a ton of his influence from John Carpenter, and with “The Guest,” music is a big reason why the movie plays so menacingly. The film teeters from dark comedy, to horror thriller over and over, and the music by Steve Moore is a stroke of genius.
The scene in the bar, along with the finale in the Halloween dance is complimented by Moore’s synth score that injects the aesthetic of a neo-Carpenter genre outing. “The Guest” was criminally under reported in 2014, and it’s a shame since it’s such a meticulously created action thriller starring a genuinely terrifying horror villain you’d never see coming your way. With the coming of Wingard’s high profile remake of “Death Note,” it wouldn’t hurt to re-visit why he’s one of the best minds working the cogs of horror cinema today.