Directed by Adam Winguard
Written by Simon Barrett
Starring Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelly, Mika Monroe, Brendan Meyer
A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence.
Two birds with one stone. The Guest appears to have had a two-fold benefit. Firstly, the transition from schlock horror aficionados to fully-fledged action creators means a whole new vista of film-making opportunity has opened up for both director Adam Winguard and his writing sidekick and regular collaborator Simon Barrett. For those of you maybe not familiar with the names, then you really only have to have watched the likes of The ABC’s of Death and the V/H/S anthologies to be reminded of their admittedly admirable horror pedigree. If you need further proof of the potential of this pairing, then You’re Next and A Horrible Way To Die should be on your list of catch-ups.
Sometimes guilty however of being on the receiving end of the timeless and diplomatic statement that “no-one ever goes out and makes a bad movie on purpose” you cannot fault Winguard and Barrett’s enthusiasm for the film-makers art. They clearly love making movies and if we’re honest, they’ve mostly improved over time. No, they’re not exactly what you would describe as auteurs, but nevertheless, they have already made a space for themselves (by shoulder-barging, possibly) with some very unique stories and the kind of tongue-in-cheek irony that really has to be admired.
The second potential benefit arising out of this particular project is the appearance of Dan Stevens as possible action hero, a la Jason Statham. Again, no, he’s far from the finished article, but on this form, there is little argument that he has the potential to slip nicely into the roles that Statham is either now too old or busy for. It’s a long way from Downton Abbey, of course, but this goes to prove that he can crawl on his belly avoiding a hail of bullets with the best of them, even if the accent does need a little work before he can probably expect to be embraced by the bigger boys across the pond.
Not known thus far for their respective abilities to meander, the story comes thick and very fast from Winguard and Barrett here. No sooner than some mystery middle-aged woman has been seen at the start of the movie staring forlornly at a picture of what we assume rightly is her now deceased son, dressed in army fatigues with other similarly adorned gun-toting peers, there comes a knocking on the front door. Who should be at the door but David (Stevens), one of her son’s old army unit, who promised her son that if the worst ever happened and that he couldn’t get home to tell his family himself, then David would return to tell the young mans’ family that he loved them, always.
So begins the tale of David ingratiating himself into this unsuspecting family, starting on the Mom (respectful, polite, smart, fearless) then the daughter (fit as a butcher’s dog, well hard), the father (more respect, drinking buddy, a good ear) and then finally and most worryingly, the son (protection, no-nonsense revenge). Sticking around for only a couple of days, he manages to achieve an immense amount of personal progress for those around him for reasons that are best known to his rather fractious self. He may well have known the young man killed in action, he may not, but his reasons for going to the lengths he does for his family is nothing if not ethically and emotionally questionable. Whether you buy into this will then depend on just how much you are able to take from this. If you’re prepared to overlook the rather large leaps in story, plot and character weaknesses, then this might just be your cup of tea. And the film tries very hard to allow you the opportunity to do just that, practically marketing Dan Stevens as the king of the charm offensive which would be fine, if he had just managed to pull it off. He nearly got away with it, but if we’re honest, he may well be better than the script he’s being asked to deliver.
Altogether, a better than average and better than expected project from Winguard and Barrett, thanks largely to the performance of Stevens and similarly but maybe less so the rest of the cast that do a great job with a story low on imagination and a below average script which seems predictable enough for you to mouth the words coming out of the characters just a second or two before they utter them, so often have you heard the same thing before. Proof maybe that the lines work, but then not a particularly good example of originality, of which this is sorely lacking.
Worth a viewing certainly, but Winguard and Barrett are still several steps away from the big time they so clearly ache to be admitted to.
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