The Guest (2014)

The GuestAs the Peterson family grieves for the loss of their oldest son, Caleb, a stranger approaches on foot. He claims to have run from the nearest bus stop, miles away; to have come as soon as he was discharged in order to pass on the late soldier’s — a friend’s — message of love to the family he left behind. Mother Laura (Sheila Kelly) welcomes him into their home, insisting that he stays for a while, in Caleb’s old room, at least until he finds his feet and plans his next move. He obliges, soon winning the trust of father Spencer (Leland Orser) and youngest son Luke (Brendan Meyer), by sharing a beer with the former and teaching self-defence to the latter. Daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) isn’t so easily won over, however, and unconvinced by his flirtations and offers of friendship she soon grows suspicious of David Collins’ (Dan Stevens) increasingly insidious attempts to integrate himself into the family.

The question you will find yourself asking throughout The Guest has nothing to do with identity of the eponymous stranger, but rather the nature of the film itself. Is The Guest an action movie? Is it a comedy? Or is it supposed to be a horror? The trailer suggested it would be an awkward mix of action and comic beats, with many gun-fights and much gurning. Furthermore, Dan Stevens seemed to have little more to say than “David”,  drawing uneasy comparisons with Matt Damon in Team America and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. The film itself, meanwhile, positions itself as a horror, an old-fashioned slasher movie complete with Hammer title cards and Halloween setting, even if the underlying goofiness remains.

Unfortunately, The Guest is neither thrilling, hilarious or scary. Having given away its big twist in the marketing campaign — that Collins is not what he seems — there is no tension, no suspense, no surprises. Even one Lance Reddick enters the fray, much later on than the trailer suggested, the film fails to build the necessary momentum. The two main set-pieces — a short-lived shoot-out at the Peterson family home and a prolonged chase sequence at a Halloween party — barely belong in the same movie, but it’s the inconsistencies in tone and pace that jar most. That’s not to say that the film isn’t entertaining, however, and despite these fluctuations it is generally enjoyable enough.

Whatever the film’s problems, its central performances are not among them. Stevens copes incredibly well, often hitting his marks regardless of how wildly inappropriate they might be. While low on menace his guest is high on mystique, and though you know roughly what is to come there is a volatility and unpredictability to the character that remains as perhaps the film’s only true constant. The kids are great too, with both Monroe and Meyer convincing in their roles. Their scenes with Stevens are among the film’s best, particularly early on as they both begin the surrender to his charms. It’s just a shame that writer Simon Barrett doesn’t give them more to work with.

Not quite as discordant as the trailer might have you believe, there is nevertheless an incongruity at the heart of The Guest that makes it a slightly ungainly watch. If nothing else, however, it should highlight the talents of Stevens and Meyer, who are undoubtedly destined for greater things. As for director Adam Wingard, who also directed You’re Next, it’s still difficult to say.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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