Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the duo behind last year’s terrific slasher You’re Next, return to the screen with The Guest. A family is grieving when mysterious David (Stevens) appears on their doorstep claiming to be a friend of their son who died fighting in the Middle East. Sporting charisma, impeccable manners and an unquenchable desire to help the small family, David appears from the outset to be a miraculous Samaritan, but as questions about his past are raised, things begin to take a darker turn.
The key to enjoying The Guest – and indeed ;”>You’re Next – is understanding the dark and ridiculous sense of humour with which the film handles itself, and boy does it return with a bite in the final act. The script is sharp and funny, and any film which can make an audience of horror-phobic students burst out laughing as someone is brutally murdered has to be doing something right. Deny it as they might, it’s safe to bet that the audience laughed like hyenas consistently throughout the bloodshed.
Dan Stevens is absolutely brilliant in the central role, and despite the charisma and the charm exhibited at first, you know from the start that something very wrong is going on beneath the surface and it’s the tension and excitement of waiting for things to go wrong that makes his performance so enjoyable. Leland Orser as the alcoholic father with the dead-end job is undoubtedly one of the funniest aspects of the film, whilst Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer as the brother and sister duo put in fine performances, and in fact the majority of the supporting cast bounce off Stevens incredibly well.
The movie is shot in a gorgeously stylish manner, the palette seeping with neon glows and pitch-black shadows working in fantastic tandem. Visually, this prevents the film from looking like a thriller that takes itself too seriously, enhancing the comedic tone despite the suspenseful set-pieces that pop up every now and then. A massively enjoyable synth-heavy score does nothing to lessen the 1980’s B-movie sensibility but that is exactly what Wingard is aiming for, down to the font used for the opening titles which brings to mind titles like The Hitcher and The Evil Dead.
Though deliberately slow and some might argue self-indulgent towards the beginning, the story holds out on the twists and turns for the final twenty minutes, with an ending that works incredibly well: Wingard and Barrett have the audience exactly where they want them and know exactly how to play them, the divided audience reaction of outraged ‘No way!’ on the one side and hysterical laughter on the other proving that to a tee. Upon leaving the screening, it was refreshing to hear so much animated discussion, to see so many gobsmacked faces which completely confirmed the quality of the film.
The Guest is a shed-load of fun; a stripped-down, smart, punchy psychological thriller that wears it’s ridiculously stylish B-movie colours proudly. There’ll be a part of you that feels immensely guilty for laughing with it, but that’s why it works so well. It’s hard to remember emerging from the cinema with such a large yet slightly ashamed grin for quite some time. Unless something truly startling emerges between now and December, it would not be far-fetched to call it the film of the year.