Stars; Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Ethan Embry
Director; Adam Wingard
Writer; Simon Barrett
Running Time; 100 Mins
Laura and Spenser Peterson, and their children Anna and Luke are surprised by the arrival of David a soldier claiming to a friend of older son Caleb killed in action. When they ask him to stay he at first appears as a source of comfort and support but beneath the friendly demeanour masks a sinister figure with dark motives that could jeopardize the Peterson's lives.
The writer/director partnership of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard is once again proving to be an impressive one having wowed audiences last year with their home invasion flick You're Next. With The Guest, Barrett and Wingard return to home invasion horror but this time the threat is invited in donning a friendly persona and face to boot in the shape of ex-Downton star Dan Stevens. The Guest also pays homage to the quintessential unstoppable villains such as Michael Myers or John Rider (Rutger Hauer, The Hitcher) as well as The Terminator. Barrett once again has scripted a story of tension and terror, interspersed with some sharp macabre humour without losing the pace maintained by Wingard's effective and stylish direction.
The script by Simon Barrett grabs the audience's attention from the start and holds it captive till the end. Whilst it's known Dan Steven's returning soldier David has more than just the devil's glint in his eye his motives are kept well and truly under-wraps with snippets drip fed until the finale. David's initial success at winning over the Peterson siblings by taking care of Luke's bullies and acting cool with Anna's friends (even seducing her BFF) is juxtaposed with the increasing series of chilling events making Anna suspicious keeping the story engaging. This gripping air of mystery around the Peterson family's surprise guest alone helps to create and maintain the tense atmosphere of the film but is heightened with Anna's suspicious and subsequent investigations. Steven's cool steely performance coupled with Wingard's masterful direction & camera work, and a musical score reminiscent of John Carpenter's soundtrack to Halloween III, also help keep the tension levels up. Audiences are advised to keep a close watch for other homages to a variety of horror thrillers.
Simon Barrett has also created engaging and underplayed yet effective characters avoiding cliché. Leland Orser and Sheila Kelly as the grieving Peterson parents are excellent in their conveying of varied ways the two cope with the loss of their son ranging from drinking to keeping busy with housework. This fractured family avoids cliché even with the younger son Luke (Brendan Meyer) suffering at the hands of school bullies and daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) a rebellious, on the verge of adulthood angst ridden girl hiding her pain in a compilation of 80s Goth rock music. All are credible and convincing drawing the audiences into their plight with sterling performances. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) does steal the show as the charming and psychopathic David exuding cool deadly charm convincingly without ever veering close to over the top. As the story shifts from psychological thriller to all out actioner in the showdown Stevens never changes pace or delivery maintains the cool calmness established at the start. Maika Monroe as Anna Peterson gives an engaging performance and revels in her dual role of troubled angst ridden, and heroine of horror.
The Guest is a solid psychological thriller with great performances, especially from Stevens and Monroe, and tense action making it gripping viewing from start to finish. It is also another example of the continued growth of the Barrett and Wingard partnership quickly establishing them as big names in the genre.