REVIEW: “The Guest”

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To be perfectly honest I had never heard of “The Guest”, at least not until it started popping up on various movie blogs. The film landed with a rather weak release and with practically no big studio backing. But in an almost underground-like show of support “The Guest” has started to catch on and more people are seeing it. Over time it has grown an enthusiastic fan-base, and many critics have given the film high marks. But me, I continue to wrestle with the movie and its overall aim.

“The Guest” employs several familiar plot points yanked from a host of different movies. It’s called an action thriller, but it incorporates elements of horror and comedy (sometimes intentional, other times…). The film’s central conceit involves a handsome and charming blue-eyed stranger named David (Dan Stevens). One day he shows up at the door of the Peterson’s, a bereaved family who recently lost a loved one to the war in Afghanistan. He tells Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley) that he served with her son Caleb and was with him when he died in service. This immediately wins her over.

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One by one David wins over the other members of the Peterson family. Caleb’s father (Leland Orser) is skeptical at first, but it only takes a few beers to win him over. David wins over Caleb’s sister Anna (Maika Monroe) by simply being cool at a party and digging her music. And finally he wins over Caleb’s little brother Luke (Brendan Meyer) by beating up the group of bullies who have been terrorizing him. So everybody loves David, well except for the audience because the film never makes an effort to hide the fact that something is clearly wrong with the guy.

The story tries to unfold at a deliberate pace and it doesn’t reveal all of its cards until the third act. But when it does show its hand things get a bit ridiculous. This is when it becomes harder to decipher what “The Guest” wants to be. It seems to struggle with a schizophrenic identity crisis. Does it want to be an action film? Does it want to be a horror thriller? Does it want to be a comedy? Personally I think it wants to be all of those things. The problem is you can’t always distinguish between parody and simply bad filmmaking. There are several scenes that are so ridiculous they have to be attempts at humor. Other times I’m not so sure.

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At the same time the film’s genre waffling isn’t always a bad thing. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are clearly trying to have fun and they heighten every aspect of the movie. I really liked that approach when it was kept under control. There were also some pretty decent performances. Dan Stevens is the centerpiece and for the most part he does a pretty good job. He works hard to give us a mix of charming and psychotic. It’s a fun performance but I kept thinking the family must be idiots for not noticing his weirdness. I laughed particularly hard when Stevens would give us one of his glazed over evil stares. The goofiness of it isn’t totally his fault. A lot of that could be traced to the material and the direction.

But while I did struggle putting aside some of these issues, the film was still oddly entertaining. It never lulls and I was always engaged. The movie runs a quick 95 minutes and it does plenty of fun and creative things during that time to keep my attention. I can’t say I’m smitten with “The Guest” like many of my movie blogging pals, but I can see where their enthusiasm comes from. It was just too uneven and sporadic for me and I never could fully embrace it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its moments.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

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21 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Guest”

  1. Spot on, review, bro! And I mean SPOT ON! I actually just watched this about an hour ago because of all the buzz surrounding it. It was okay but nowhere near as good as some bloggers are making out. I honestly felt like it was a Saturday night, free movie on TV. It had many things to admire (Dan Stevens’ charismatic central performance for one) but it really didn’t hit the heights that many bloggers have claimed it to be. I didn’t dislike it but let’s get serious here. It’s nothing more than a decent B-movie.

    • I definitely didn’t have the blown away experience that many seemed to have. I really didn’t get the hyper excitement for it.

      And let me ask you this, did you ever get a good sense for what the movie wanted to be? I felt it was all over the place and sometimes

      • I see what your’re getting at. I did have those feelings. It began as a psychological thriller but with the Halloween setting towards the end, became more akin to horror. It was inpressive in what it was trying to fo but didn’t fully achieve either.

      • I think it was pretty messy but yet I never found myself bored. I think the thing I struggled with the most was trying to decipher between when it was trying to be funny and when it was just sloppy filmmaking.

      • Again, fair points that i agree with. I wasn’t bored either but I expected a little more. I felt like it was going for more style and forgot to keep the plot solid.

  2. I think the biggest offense this film committed was adhering to the government conspiracy project-type fear. This had something unique going on up until outside sources became getting involved. But I personally felt Dan Stevens was too strong here to be ignored. Nice review Keith.

    • Thanks man. I just thought the movie had an identity crisis. Some of it is so incredibly goofy. I kept thinking that it’s trying to be a parity, but then it takes these instances so seriously. I did like the performance from Stevens. He did crack me up sometimes but I don’t think it’s fully his fault. When he would go off into one of those ultra menacing stares I had to laugh. But he was clearly being directed to do so.

      I don’t know man, it’s a movie I’m definitely glad I watched. It was entertaining. But it’s not a movie that will stick with me.

  3. Good review. I really loved this movie, but I can see how you were put off by the mix of genres. Adam Wingard had said that he got the inspiration for it after watching a back-to-back screening of Halloween and The Terminator, so that’s where the mixture of action and horror come into play. Some of the over-the-top scenes I think are kind of a wink to ’80s horror/action movie cliches, and that has a bit to do with the dark humor/ridiculousness involved. It is self-aware that it’s almost parodying these movies. I like the mix, I think it works, but it can seem a bit all over the place especially when the whole government plot starts to play out. It is good fun, though, and Dan Stevens does a great job.

    • I do like the idea of mixing up the genres and there are times where it really worked for me. I just couldn’t get over some of its more dopier moments. But like I said, there’s something about it that I found entertaining. It never grew old or tiresome. Also it always threw something new at you. I really appreciated that as well.

  4. Something about this just doesn’t appeal to me but I like the fact that despite your reservations you found it entertaining. It looks like it’s trying to be all things to all people but I guess there’s lots of praise for it and three stars certainly isn’t bad, so I’ll probably give it a whirl.

    • I’m not completely sure what it’s trying to be. It is entertaining and it’s never boring. On the other hand there are some moments that are just ridiculous. It has grown a huge following, and to be honest I’m a bit surprised at that. For me it’s nothing more than a throwaway movie that I’m glad I watched, but I’ll never watch again.

  5. This is one of those movies that even though it’s far from perfect, I still enjoyed it. I think the fact that I like Dan Stevens in his period drama days and he’s just so different (and bad ass) here that it’s amusing. The soundtrack is great as well.

    • It is amusing, sometimes unintentionally so. But yet, as you said, I still enjoyed it. It’s not a flick I’ll probably see again but I’m glad I checked it out.

  6. Great review Keith! Sorry to see you didn’t enjoy it more! This was typically something I would love in a movie, so it hit all the marks for me, but I can see how it won’t completely wow everyone. It’s like Wingard’s last flick, You’re Next? Everyone was smitten, I was underwhelmed. I liked the genre mash-up here and I liked the deliberate goofiness and how tongue-in-cheek it got at the best of times. Stevens delivered a fantastic performance and is a big reason this film is perfect for me, and not just fun. Also, that soundtrack! ❤

    • Yea, I didn’t go for a lot of it but I am glad I watched it. I would definitely recommend people see it because despite my overall reaction I still found it to be brisk and entertaining.

  7. The intent was to capture the exact mood and tone of 80’s horror and action movies, and I personally feel like a perfect job was done.

    It is like a John Carpenter film in many ways. All the goofiness was on purpose. All the tonal fuckage was on purpose. The evil stares were supposed to be funny.

    But yeah, I can see why it doesn’t work for everybody haha.

    • I know much of it was intended to be funny but it wasn’t always clear to me. For me some of it was indeed funny. Some of it was stupid. I just never found all of its parody to be effective. But on the same note I was never bored and I never found myself checking my watch. It’s not like it’s void of entertainment value. I would never say that.

    • Glad someone sees where I’m coming from on this one. I had fun with it but I’m a bit surprised at the groundswell of enthusiasm for it. It was literally all over the place and Stevens had me laughing on several occasions (and I don’t think he intended to).

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