Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are on a roll. Fresh off of their surprise hit YOU’RE NEXT, and segments in both V/H/S 2 and ABCS OF DEATH comes THE GUEST. Though it is a departure from their straight horror films, it maintains their playfulness and shows that they really know their film history.
THE GUEST begins with a visit from a stranger. David (Dan Stevens, divinely leaving his Downtown Abbey days far behind him) goes to the Peterson household in rural New Mexico to pay his respect to the family of a fallen soldier. He had served with Caleb in Afghanistan and comes by to make sure that the family is doing well and to tell them that Caleb had them on his mind while at war. Matriarch Laura (Sheila Kelley) is grateful for the visit, and opens her house to David. As soon as THE GUEST starts it begins to show how it will set itself apart. Laura does not naively throw the doors open and embrace David. She is smarter than that. Instead she is cautious. She is happy for the visit, but takes time to warm to David. Had David been any less charming or less humble than he acts she would have not let him in. But David is possibly the most polite and handsome man in the entire armed forces and quickly has most of the Peterson family eating out of his hand.
Daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, who will prove to be a genre staple this year in IT FOLLOWS) takes a little longer to come around to David’s charms but with that smile and those pecks she cannot resist forever. Make no mistake, the film uses David’s beefcake status aggressively. It is refreshing to see a film where the female gaze, through Anna, is used to draw attention to the male body. So often the young female body is put on display for no logical reason in films and here THE GUEST both acknowledges the exploitation in film and plays with typical audience expectations. Anna is sexual, mature, and not a agentless victim of an all-powerful man.
And playful is the word that best describes THE GUEST. The plot then goes on to toy with horror and action film trends and subvert them. David is, as suspected, not as he seems, but not in the way that you may expect. Anna does fall for his allure and his gorgeous body, but not before he has sex with her best friend. This constant but subtle tinkering keeps the plot interesting and leads the audience blind up to a dramatic climax. By the time we get to the end of the film we know that the unexpected conclusion is more likely than the expected one.
This is what we have come to expect from joint products of Wingard and Barrett. YOU’RE NEXT used well established home invasion horror and flipped it around to give us a surprising plot and a kick ass heroine. THE GUEST is a throwback to 1970s and 1980s slashers and thrillers but instead of copying their plots it has some fun. Audiences expecting Wingard and Barrett to recreate another horror classic may be disappointed at THE GUEST’s low body count and general lack of heavy atmosphere. However if you are expecting the filmmakers to present you with a film that treats you and your film expertise with respect, then you will adore THE GUEST.