The Guest

September 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Sheila Kelley
Directed by: Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”)
Written by: Simon Barrett (“You’re Next”)

“They don’t make them like they used to” isn’t really a phrase that can be used when talking about a movie collaboration between director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett. At least they’ve proven that to be true so far, first with their 2011 thriller/comedy “You’re Next,” a film that took every horror movie cliché it possibly could and spun them in a way that audiences felt they were watching something familiar but fresh. It was like someone actually cared about the script instead of tossing out the same tired concepts for mass consumption. Wingard and Barrett hit pay dirt again with “The Guest,” a clever and highly-entertaining throwback thriller in the same vein as “The Terminator” and the original “Halloween,” but with a lot more laughs and a charismatic performance by lead actor Dan Stevens (TV’s “Downton Abbey”) that cyborg Schwarzenegger and Michael Myers could only dream to outdo.

In “The Guest,” Stevens plays David, a clean-cut, all-American soldier who shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family one afternoon with a message he promised to deliver to them from their son who died while serving with him in the military. Touched by his loyalty and sincerity, the Petersons open their home to David for a couple of days until he decides where the road will take him next. Little do they know, however, that David isn’t who he says he is and will quickly drag the family into a situation that would only be believable if it were in an insanely ridiculous movie that knew just how insanely ridiculous it was. Fortunately for “The Guest,” it fits the bill.

The self-awareness and mischievously fun nature of “The Guest” is what keeps the story moving forward, especially when it feels like Wingard and Barrett have back themselves into a corner with nowhere to go except into directions countless of thrillers have gone before. But Wingard and Barrett know how to pivot and do such a fantastic job of avoiding a lot of the pitfalls most films in this genre always  seem clumsily run into. Even when they do manage to borrow from past movies, the satirical way they deliver the scenes is so mindful of it cinematic status, there really is no way to fault it for piggybacking on the movies that inspired it.

As the all-out merciless David, Stevens is just as rousing as actress Sharni Vinson’s character Erin was in “You’re Next.” Unlike Erin, however, David is far from the protagonist of “The Guest,” although he’s one of those movie bad guys audiences will secretly be rooting for. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially since Stevens owns every facet of this enjoyable role. In fact, one might be hard-pressed not to invite someone like David over for dinner based on first impressions. It would definitely be a lovely evening if not for all the death and destruction.

At Any Price

May 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Maika Monroe
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani (“Goodbye Solo”)
Written by: Ramin Bahrani (“Goodbye Solo”) and Hallie Elizabeth Newton (debut)

Creating drama based on topics most people wouldn’t find that dramatic to begin with is a tough challenge for any director. In recent years, filmmaker David Fincher perfected it in 2010 with his masterpiece “The Social Network,” a film about the creation of Facebook. Director Gus Van Sant ran into storytelling problems with his 2012 film “Promised Land” about hydraulic fracturing. In “At Any Price,” a film that makes corporate farming and GMO seeds its narrative base, proven filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (“Goodbye Solo,” “Chop Shop”) doesn’t seem to know where to go once he kicks his tractor into high gear. Part agribusiness fraud tale, part father-son relationship melodrama, “Price” never gets any real guidance to define the type of film it would like to be. By the end, we’re left with a film of flawed design.

Dennis Quaid (“Soul Surfer”) stars as Henry Whipple, an Iowan farmer being investigated for illegally cleaning and reselling genetically modified seeds (GMOs) throughout the state. Henry works in the extremely competitive agricultural world, so he is committed to doing anything he can to keep his farm afloat. Although he is running a family business, his two sons aren’t very interested in following in his footsteps. His son Dean (Zac Efron, who seems to be doing an impersonation of James Dean) has his sights set on racecar driving. It’s a cliché rebellious teenage character we’ve seen hundreds of times before and Efron does nothing remarkable to let it stand alone.

Aside from a forgettable performance by Efron, the complicated relationship Bahrani attempts to create between Henry and Dean isn’t interesting or nearly as complex as it thinks it is. We have a young kid rebelling against his father during a very stressful time for everyone. Things are bound to get a little testy at times, so how is that different than any other family scenario? The controversial seed story would’ve been the way to give the film a bit more life and distinction, but Behrani and first-time screenwriter Hallie Elizabeth Newton toss those ideas to the side in favor of more emoting.

Quaid is adequate enough as a father trying to keep everything from falling apart, but Behrani and Newton add some questionable traits to him that seem out of character. For example, why is he cheating on his wife with a floozie named Meredith (Heather Graham in a role that could’ve easily been left on the editing room floor and not made any difference)? Henry seems like a good guy despite lacking business ethics, but he never comes off as the type of sleezeball it would take to sleep around with the town whore.

In any case, Bahrani proves the family is a fairly dysfunctional one, but gives us little reason to care about what happens to them under their own roof much less in the cutthroat world of farming. Behrani sows the cinematic seeds, but yields nothing.

“At Any Price” was screened at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival.