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.