A family in mourning receive a guest, a man from the same military unit as their late son, in town for a few days to help them out in any way he can, but smart, brave and charismatic as he is, something isn’t right about his situation.
The film Drive was met with a ridiculous critical reception, so much so in fact, that this reviewer, though enjoying the film, wondered what all the fuss was about. Its empty artistic flourishes, that amounted to extended staring matches between characters, which, frankly, made the lead protagonist seem somewhat retarded, fooled many people into thinking the film was more than the slightly plotted, violent-crime-actioner that it was.
It’s aesthetic and 80’s heavy soundtrack certainly gave it a charm, and the violence popped when it was allowed to, but I got the impression that it was a film that was embarrassed of and thought itself better than the genre (or sub-genre) that it fell into.
Not something that can be said about The Guest, a film that has heavily borrowed from some of the cooler elements of Drive, but infused it with heart-on-sleeve inspiration from the works of John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York) to construct a love letter to the more violent films of the 80’s.
Directed and written by the relatively prolific but little known team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, who together produced a number of segments for both V/H/S anthologies are probably best known for the criminally under-appreciated slasher film reversal, You’re Next.
With that film, as with The Guest, these guys demonstrate with shining pride their love and knowledge for the genres they’ve chosen to work in but with enough new ingredients thrown into the mix to ensure that the films can be enjoyed on more than just an associative level.
The Guest doesn’t have the most original storyline, but that’s hardly the point, the slim plot exists to take the excellent lead character, David, an enigmatic and charismatic hardass, from episodic situation to episodic situation, helping his friend’s family using savvy and extremely brutal violence, all the while hinting at a mysterious past that could take the story in any direction.
It also isn’t a subtle film, but what film so inspired by the 80’s would be? It wasn’t the subtlest decade. That comparison to Carpenter really is apt, and from the very opening title card. It gives you only enough character mythology to drive the story, it’s running time is lean, it contains many purposefully jarring cuts and the soundtrack tells you exactly what you’re meant to be feeling and when, and with a synth-heavy score that is at once identifiable and rocking the shit.
All the intension in the world wouldn’t be worth a damn though if that central performance was weak, but British newcomer, Dan Stevens, veteran of Downton Abbey of all things, cuts as cool and intimidating a character as has been seen for a long time, demonstrating that unstoppable force usually associated with masked slashers by the time the third act rolls in, giving the film a twist in genre to something that some people who are less enamoured with genre cinema from the 80’s might consider silly and underwritten, which it is, but knowingly.
Mesmerisingly duplicitous due to its down to Earth aesthetic and larger than life musical score, The Guest most definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but its no holds barred approach to violence, its old school sensibilities, its charismatic lead and the passion for its own inspirations should ensure that it will find a very loyal fanbase.