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The Guest is a flat-footed genre exercise that's as straight and stripped as they come, but it's brimming with enough style, tension, mood, and technical creativity to successfully cover for its stunning lack of originality. Screenwriter Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard have been teaming up for about five years now. Apart from A Horrible Way to Die, unseen by me but respected amongst horror fans, they collaborated on a couple of forgettable segments on two of those dreadful V/H/S movies, as well as 2011's You're Next, a refreshing slasher flick with a twist.
Judging by their impressive work on You're Next and The Guest, they seem to be interested in style-over-substance genre retreads, with a clear emphasis on bringing some nostalgia-infused prestige to 80s-style trash cinema. You're Next was a standard slasher with a predictable "hunter becomes the hunted" twist that rose a tick or two in quality above its mediocre counterparts thanks to its tight pacing, surprisingly decent acting and impressive set pieces that threw in buckets of creative tongue-in-cheek mischief along with the usual thickened corn syrup (Or whatever you kids use for fake blood these days).
The Guest offers pretty much more of the same as You're Next as far as a stylistic yet straightforward genre exercise is concerned, except without even the plot twist that at least attempted to give You're Next an edge over similar screenplays. The Guest is a typical "Mysterious yet seemingly benign stranger infiltrates a suburban family and is gradually revealed to be a murdering psychopath" thriller through and through.
Even if you're not a particularly obsessive film buff, you could probably come up with at least a dozen titles before you even finished reading that description: The Hand That Rocked The Cradle, Fear, Poison Ivy, the list goes on and on. In the case of The Guest, our friendly sociopath du-jour is David (Dan Stevens), an all too perfectly monosyllabic Nazi poster child in the flesh, who shows up at the house of the Peterson family, claiming to be the army buddy to their son who died in action.
On the surface, The Guest is a textbook example of such a film, following the predictable structure to a tee. The first act is devoted to David being extremely nice to the Petersons, while subtle hints about his unstable true self briefly pop up here and there. Hell, it even has a scene where David beats up a couple of bullies who were harassing the nerdy Peterson (Brendan Meyer), so Barrett and Wingard can stab two bullies with one broken beer bottle: 1- Endear the stranger to a member of the family by having him act as a protector. 2- Hint at the stranger's psychotic side by having him take the beating a bit too far.
Of course the second act is reserved for more bloodshed as David predictably ups the ante from brutal beatings to straight up cold-blooded murder, while the inquisitive Peterson (Maika Monroe) looks into David and finds out, gasp, he might not be who he says he is. You don't say!? And as far as the third act is concerned, the second we briefly see a poster for a school party during the first act, we know that the bloody finale will take place at said party. Meanwhile, Barrett and Wingard attempt to inject a whole other genre, political conspiracy action/thriller, to the proceedings, which also follows every single one its story beats, only this time as a fun size sub-plot.
However, what makes The Guest work is the energetic fun Barrett and Wingard have with their admittedly bland template. This is the type of movie where one can imagine the creative force behind it mulling over even the tiniest piece of minutia within the individual set pieces, as well as the overall tone and feel of the piece, for long sleepless nights, while not spending more than a New York minute on the overall story.
The Guest sports a terrific 1080p presentation on Blu-Ray. Don't expect a You're Next level hyper-stylized cinematography from The Guest, since it's supposed to reference a genre with a usually more grounded visual style and color palette. Overall, this is a clean and crisp transfer that more than likely sticks close to the source.
It's not every day when a relatively low budget movie gives your sound system a workout. The Guest's John Carpenter-esque minimalist score thumping throughout and the impressive sound work during a 90s-style action set piece in the DTS-HD 5.1 track should put a smile on home theater enthusiasts' faces.
Deleted Scenes: 15 minutes of scenes that would have really dragged down the pacing, especially of the first act. They come with optional commentary by Barrett and Wingard.
Interview With Dan Stevens: A very brief interview where Stevens talks about his take on the character of David.
Audio Commentary by Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard: This is a fast-paced and energetic commentary where Barrett and Wingard openly discuss The Guest's production joys and frustrations. It should be a treat for the film's hardcore fans.
The box also comes with a DVD and a digital copy voucher. Sampling the DVD showed an excellent standard definition audio/video presentation.
Yes, the placement and outcome of every single scene is telegraphed before you even take the Blu-Ray out of the box, but the acting, framing, blocking, editing, tension, and especially mood of every one of them are all intensely entertaining. After a while, I accepted this stripped down yet effective take on the genre so much that I was almost disappointed when David's background and motivations, which are ludicrous and woefully nonsensical, were finally explained. The Guest is such an infectiously raw experience that I would have gladly accepted "Psycho soldier" as the one and only motivation for David's behavior.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com