I often get free passes to films, usually I have some awareness of what the film is or who is starring in it. Last night I went to see The Guest with zero knowledge of the plot, cast or director, hadn’t seen a trailer or any press for it beyond a few poster on the side of red double deckers.
Just before the film started, someone came out to introduce it, as so often happens with previews, and described the film as “Drive crossed with Terminator, and some Halloween thrown in”. Now, crazy as it sounds, that is exactly what The Guest felt like even though it shares very little plot wise with any of those films. But in terms of tone, it hits all three, a bizarre hybrid of different genres. If I had to pick, it’s a violent thriller, but so much more than that.
This is going to be a tricky review, as to reveal too much about the plot would utterly ruin your enjoyment of the film itself, it is implied at several points that the film will go in one direction and you know which characters you should be rooting for, only to have your head spun in completely the other direction more than once, and the whole film is flipped around so fast it gives the audience whiplash.
The titular ‘Guest’ is played by Dan Stevens, who, I’m told was once on a little show called Downton Abbey, which I have not seen. He plays a soldier, David, who rocks up at the home of another soldier he served with, that died. He seems charming, perhaps a little quiet and overly, unsettlingly polite, but nice enough as he becomes part of these people’s lives. He claims to be there simply to fulfil the dying wish of his friend, just to check on the family.
However it is obvious fairly early on that something is very wrong. Once David has started beating up bullies, using all of his army skills, smashing heads off walls, you do get the impression this film has a lot in common with Drive. A stoic anti-hero type who ends up helping others, usually with a lot of violence. There’s also a Drive-esque soundtrack and a similarity in cinematography in places.
This manages to be an action film, a thriller and a definitely a horror film before the credits roll. It is also wickedly funny in places. I’m not sure I have ever seen anything quite like it, and that might be what I enjoyed the most, the film does go a little of the proverbial rails towards the end with a few plot points that didn’t really need to be revealed and could have been left as mystery. But there’s one crucial point where everything changes for David and the other characters, which drew gasps from the audience, because you just don’t think it will play out the way it does.
It is excellently directed by Adam Wingard, who keeps the whole film incredibly tense, on a knife edge, and I will absolutely go back and have a look at his earlier work after this. For me, the standout was Dan Stevens, with a difficult character to play, someone who is largely emotionless but we can clearly see the damage beneath, able to be charming and deeply scary at the same time. I suspect he might end up having a pretty decent Hollywood career ahead of him if this is anything to go by.
The Guest probably isn’t for everyone, the tone and genre does, deliberately, jump around but it keeps things interesting all the way through. If you want something a little different, this is well worth checking out.
The Guest opens in the UK on September 5th, and September 17th in the US.