The Guest, 2014
dir. Adam Wingard
Okay, backing up a bit. This film came out last year, but I didn’t get a chance to watch it then for some reason, and I’ve been waiting to get the DVD, which I did yesterday, and tonight I finally got the chance to watch this little movie which I so naively thought was just going to be your run-of-the-mill action flick post-Bourn series. To be honest, I only wanted to watch this because of Dan Stevens, and I have already accepted how trash that makes me.
I could not have predicted this though.
The film begins innocently enough, just David being a Coll Guy, Nice Veteran Man, Respectful Friend, being let into the family home by Laura Peterson, who is thankful to have a connection to her late son Caleb in the house. We get to know the father, Spencer, who is just your average working-class man, watching sports, drinking beer, not really connecting with his children. We also get to know the youngest child, Luke, who is bullied in school, and the daughter, Anna, who is a 20-year-old waitress saving money for college, and who is instantly taken aback by David (I mean, who wouldn’t? it’s Dan Stevens), but who also doesn’t seem to trust him from the get-go, unlike everyone else.
The first twenty minutes of the film go on like that, and we don’t really know who David is, only that he is very quiet and stares into space with a bit too much intensity sometimes. You think maybe this is a revenge flick. Maybe Caleb was involved in some unsavoury business that David has promised to resolve now that he’s back. (Might I add that David mentions he was invalidated from the war by a back wound, much like a certain Mr Crawley from a certain TV series about a certain Abbey…) And even after David picks a fight and absolutely destroys Luke’s bullies in a bar, we still don’t know what’s up. By then, this could very well be The Bourne Identity.
But it turns out that it’s more like The Manchurian Candidate had a love-child with The Terminator, only without the over-acting and nonsensical world-dominating plots. And that’s where The Guest scored high. It kept the story itself on a small scale. Sure, there is a lot of weird back story, but the plot itself is very much contained within the space of the small town and the small ensemble of characters, meaning we get to know David a lot better.
It’s certainly not a character study, and there are plenty of thrilling action scenes for any blood-thirsty spectator, but the psychology behind David’s character, and the relationships he forms with everyone else are what make this such a great story. It is unexpected in a wonderful way, because the twists really are twists, and our lead characters are not just film categories (Action Man, Sassy Lady, Wisecracking Sidekick), but rather they are well-rounded individuals that are interesting to watch develop onscreen.
But other than great performances not only from Dan Stevens (really, though, he was amazing), but also Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer, the film’s 80s-style soundtrack makes it feel a bit like Drive in the best possible way. It’s sort of timeless but also retro, and it’s still very much in the present. The cinematography is stunning, and the music in the background will have you completely hooked.
Overall, I thought this was a really good film, much better than I could have ever imagined, and I am glad to see that films like these are still being made in the midst of a-Liam-Neeson-movie-a-year and Disney’s Marvel’s superheroes part 78.
review by Mariana Duarte