FrightFest: The Guest review

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett previously collaborated on the reasonably successful and rather enjoyable home invasion thriller, You’re Next. Now their second feature together, The Guest, is along and it’s similarly enjoyable, and could very well be as successful.

But also like You’re Next, The Guest doesn’t entirely come together, and while it has some interesting ideas, they aren’t always explored in an entirely satisfying manner.

The Guest opens with a shot from behind of David (Dan Stevens) running. In the next shot we see that he has an army bag slung across his shoulder. Suddenly, synths blast over the soundtrack and the title fills the screen, rendered in an eighties-appropriate font. My thoughts went immediately to the Vietnam-vet narratives that played out across a variety of seventies and eighties movies, perhaps most famously in Ted Kotcheff’s First Blood. And The Guest does certainly feel informed by these films – in particular a number that would have gone straight to VHS – but there’s also a generous helping of Bourne mixed in too, and a somewhat excessive side order of John Carpenter heaped on top.

And then this is all topped off with a surprising dash of Nicholas Sparks.

The Guest never really taps into the socio-political subtext of those Vietnam vet films, despite some mentions of the Iraq war and even a third act section which invokes a covert government agency.

Where The Guest is appointed most generously is in an abundance of black humour, macabre comedy drawn out of David slowly worming his way into a family’s home as they grieve over the loss of their son. Stevens is almost absurdly charismatic as David and distractingly handsome to boot, with Wingard ensuring his baby blue yes pop as much as possible at all times.

The daughter of the family is even sidetracked from her initial suspicions about David when he emerges from a steamy bathroom in just a towel. The scene is pretty corny on the surface but it is played very much for laughs, and these early scenes of the charming psychopath are among the high points.

It does seem that Wingard and Barrett intend for the audience to be equally seduced, only to later pull out the rug from under us as they reveal that David’s casual approach to violence is maybe not as ‘cool’ as we may have originally thought. The problem is, laying waste to a bar full of bullies or smashing the head of a man into a wall isn’t actually cool to begin with.

There are still many pleasures on the surface of The Guest, mostly found in the comic interplay between David and the rest of the supporting players, all of them very well cast. Maika Monroe stands out, much as she does in the forthcoming  It Follows.

There are also some fairly well-constructed action sequences and somewhat surprising turns in the plot. As a result, this isn’t exactly a deep experience or a film that manages to say a great deal, but The Guest is always a fun experience nonetheless.

The Guest has just received its UK premiere at FrightFest and will be released in UK cinemas on the 5th of September, and then in the US on the 17th of September.