Friday, January 9, 2015

The Guest

I have a confession to make. I have a weakness for those daft psycho-thrillers from the 90's. You know, the ones like The Hand that Rocks the CradleUnlawful Entry or Cape Fear. They were all very similar, with a seemingly charming and innocent stranger would insinuate themselves into the lives of a typical yuppie family and slowly be revealed to be a dangerous psychopath. Much like they did with their previous collaboration You're Next, which toyed with the conventions of the home invasion thriller into a mad cap concoction, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett do the same thing with the psycho-thriller genre in The Guest

One day, a charming young man named David (played by Dan Stevens), shows up on the Peterson family doorstep. He tells them he was with their son when he died in action and promised to check up on them. Naturally, wanting to hear more about their son, they let him stay for a bit. In no time, David has the entire family charmed and they ask him to stay on a while longer while he figures out what he wants to do next (he had just been discharged from the Military himself). However, not all is as it seems with David.

The first red flag is when he picks up the younger son, Luke (played by Brandon Meyer), from school and before leaving David tells Luke to point out the kids who have been picking on him. The two of them then follow the group to a bar outside town that doesn't card. David goes inside after the bullies and Luke eventually follows. David proceeds to provoke the bullies into a fight and makes short work of the three in a rather stunning fight sequence and earning the begrudging respect and admiration of Luke.

The only family member that seems to see through David's charm is the daughter, Anna (played by Maika Monroe). She starts looking into the things David has been telling the family and slowly starts to discover his secrets. Although, in true thriller fashion, when she tries to warn the rest of her family they don't believe her. 

The film does a great job both adhering to and subverting the genre tropes. Just when you think you know how it's going to play out, it throws you a curve ball. The film has it's tongue firmly planted in it's cheek. It does a great job at slowly winding itself up for the majority of it's run time before flying gleefully and wildly out of control.

Much of the film's success rested on the shoulders of Dan Stevens and he delivers marvelously in a role that is about as far away the Matthew Crawley character he played on Downton Abbey and probably remains his most well known. He's a lean, mean bad-ass villain here, but yet capable of being incredibly charming. That is the key in making this film work. Otherwise, the film falls apart with all the other characters would look stupid for keeping David around. I knew he was the villain of the piece from the get go yet even I was liking his character up until the last quarter when David's inner time bomb finally went off and the chaos erupted. 

There's a playfulness here that was also present in their previous film. It's all so gleefully over the top, I couldn't help but have a big dumb grin on my face as I was watching it. None of it is meant to be taken seriously and is almost a hyper-stylized satire of the genre. It's a film that knows just how ridiculous it really is and is more than happy to oblige. I can't help but love it for that.