In The Guest, director Adam Wingard channels everything from 90’s sci-fi to Drive, and the end product is tremendously entertaining.
The story begins with the arrival (without notice, mind you) of mild-mannered war veteran, David Collins, onto the doorstep of the Peterson household. David explains to Laura, the mother of this typically suffocated nuclear family, that he served with their dead son, Caleb, in some non-specific far-flung conflict in the Middle-East. He explains that he was with Caleb when he died, and that Caleb wanted David to tell his family that he was thinking of them right up until the end.
The unassuming houseguest Collins seems reluctant when Mrs Paterson offers him a bed for the night. In seeming return for their hospitality, David becomes the perfect house guest. He goes out of his way to ingratiate himself with the grieving family. He offers to pick their meek son, Luke, up from school in order to rough up some teenaged bullies who have been giving him a hard time. He bonds with the father of the family, Spence, over beers and even attends a party with the formulaic moody teenage girl of the household, Anna.
The film then subtly begins to unravel itself into a hometown horror flick. Delicate hints are dropped here and there about David’s true nature. It is revealed that he carries a switchblade ‘just in case.’ He gives Luke some questionable advice about self-defence, telling him that if anyone tries to pick on him he should ‘burn down their house at night with their families inside.’
While this may seem like a comedic interlude, and indeed it did receive a smattering of laughter amongst the modest-sized audience in the theatre, it is clearly not intended to be funny by David. It becomes increasingly clear that he is suffering from some sort of PTSD. Spence mentions his dissatisfaction at being stuck in a mid-level management job. Soon after, the regional manager dies in an apparent murder suicide and Spence is offered a promotion.
These strange happenings, coupled with a recurring staccato Drive-style electronic soundtrack are slowly letting the audience know that something is up. Anna soon sees past David’s rock-hard abs and timid mannerisms. She decides to ring a military call centre to find out information about their lingering house guest who she describes as a ‘breathing reminder’ of her dead brother. Her suspicions about his background and confirmed, and the plot thickens.
All of the build-up is slow and tense. It is fitting then that the second act seems to have been directed by a hyper-charged Michael Bay fan boy. Lance Reddick intervenes as the token badass military cop as the shooting begins. The action is so fast-paced that we don’t get a chance to find out exactly what kind of military experiment KPG Corporation (because there’s always a corporation) conducted on David. To be fair though, the culminating scenes are so intense that we don’t even care about all of that. It’s fun to sit back and watch the carnage.
Verdict: Some critics have called The Guest B-movie trash, but at least it’s smartly-done B-movie trash. Well worth a watch.