Horror-thon Day #6: The Guest

The Guest is a 2014 release from the writer and director of You’re Next (which will be covered on the 17th) which Chaz has been trying to get me to watch for years. So, I thought, where better than the October Horror-thon? Now granted, this film isn’t a horror film, there are elements of horror in it, but overall, it’s a thriller. However, it’s a film worth your time, if mostly for the performance of Dan Stevens.

Centred around the Peterson family, The Guest introduces them to the character of David, a former soldier who was friends with their deceased son. Still mourning and hopeful of a distraction from the grief, Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelly) invites him to stay with them, despite knowing nothing more than a name and his face from a photograph. The two Peterson children, Anna and Luke, though initially unsure, take to David and he comfortably begins to settle into their lives until a series of upsetting incidents leads Anna to become suspicious of their house guest.

Now, The Guest is an upfront film. From the title its obvious that David is going to turn out to be our antagonist. However, Dan Stevens plays him with such cool charm that its impossible not to like him. The things he does for the family, such as teaching Luke how to avoid bullies, impressing Anna and her friends at a party and even giving Spencer someone to rant to, endear him and although he’s clearly a little out of sorts, you can kind of understand why the family embrace him. However, we’re given glimpses very early on that something isn’t right with David. From long lingering stares to not sleeping at night, his behaviour keys us into something being very, very wrong.

Dan is phenomenal in this role. He’s smooth, he’s intelligent, his charm levels are off the charts and when it does come time for him to switch it up and begin the third act, it’s a transition that feels like slipping into a swimming pool. There’s nothing sudden, it just rolls off the top of the hill and keeps on rolling until the eventual climax. It’s hard not to be attracted to him here – the personality he gives David is unassuming, polite, helpful and careful. The flashes of violence we’re given seem like extensions of this – protecting Luke from bullies and a girl from her ex at the party. He’s a rich, complex character, clearly damaged from serving his country.

And then they kinda drop the ball with it a bit. We’re given hints that suggest that there was something dark and a uncouth in the military that he was a part of, a secret project. Now I’m not going to say anymore on it, but it could have been a very different film if they’d simply examined the damage that people can (and often do) suffer as a result of fighting in war. That could have given us a very interesting film. However, the choice they made does add to the fun of the film. And it is fun, very fun, in a lot of ways, its dumb fun, but it is delivered with intelligence.

What we have is a film of two halves. The first part is so well crafted and paced, we move into the Peterson’s lives as David does, knowing nothing but that their son has died. The more time he spends with them, the more we learn. Fantastic storytelling. The next half? Well it kinda forgets how clever its being and goes into a full on action film. Which is fine. But, you know. Consistency is good too.

We’re given many messages throughout (some of which were fun nods to You’re Next) which tell us what’s going to happen. Everything is set up; everything is paid off. It’s an open and close film. As you may know from what I’ve said before, I appreciate this.

This is a very attractive film. From the cast (Dan Stevens comes off casually cool and Maika Monroe who plays Anna is very beautiful) to the aesthetics (the Peterson household was delightfully dressed for Halloween and the school decoration was absolutely ridiculous. It looked incredibly but all the way through I kept turning to Chaz and saying ‘no school has the budget for that level of decoration), the lighting is great, particularly one fantastic shot of David near the end, the locations feel fresh and the editing is smooth and deliberate. The music too is great and really fits into the tone of the film – a little offbeat, a little sinister but still fun. We’re given synth tracks and we all know I love a good synth track. There’s a particularly fun use of music in the film near the end which made David seem like a prick so that was fun.

Overall, I had a blast watching this. It was a fast, fun thriller which made me laugh, something I needed after the sombre tone of The Witch (though I still can’t get over how great that film was). I can’t really mark it as a Horror because it isn’t one. The only horror elements I could find were psychological ones – the idea of having a stranger in your home that you know next to nothing about and that you’re suspicious of, the horror of losing a beloved family member, the horror of psychological damage caused by war.

There are ideas here which could make for a very interesting horror film, but that’s not the route it chooses to go. The film we ended up with was an entertaining romp with a fun climax. I really enjoyed the cast and I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for something fun to watch.

This was a great time but when it comes to rating, its difficult. There was a few things that could definitely have been improved upon (the ending kind of did jump up on us) and the story needed a few kinks worked out. Oh and occasionally, the acting was rather…tired? Particularly from the mum. I had more fun with it than The Witch but, The Witch was a far better film. So, we’ll give it a seven.

Thanks for reading, tomorrow we return with 1998’s The Faculty.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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