3 genres in one? Now that is one package deal I can really get to grips with.
The Guest is a relatively small yet formidable feature. And oddly enough, one that is yet to even be released in the States, despite it’s American production. Fortunately (for me anyway), it was released in the UK on the 5th of September. I finally got round to seeing it last night after convincing my mother, who incidentally is disgusted by movie violence, that it wasn’t anything to be afraid of. I justified this by explaining that The Guest starred former Downton Abbey cast member Dan Stevens (a particular favorite of my mam’s). I also pointed out that it wasn’t identified in the horror genre by IMDB, and was listed, instead, as a ‘Thriller.’ This is most likely the case because thriller’s tend to be based more on tension, focusing on psychological affects of certain situations and the drama that consequently ensues, unlike its dark sibling the horror film, which tends to involve more violence and abject terror. Based on these definitions-that I completely and utterly made up on the spot-it is difficult to really place The Guest into one or the other, but it was easy enough to convince my mam to go.
The Guest follows David (Dan Stevens), an ex-army official, as he seeks the family of one of his recently dead comrades. He arrives under the pretense that his deceased friend, Caleb Peterson, asked him to make sure each and every member of his family knew exactly how much he loved them and that in his final moments he was thinking about them. David completes this objective but is invited to stay in the family home, on a temporary basis, by Caleb’s mother Laura (Sheila Kelley) who deems that it would be good for the family and their grieving process to have him around. I’m sure i don’t need to tell you that this most certainly was not the case. Right from the very beginning it is very obvious to the audience that there is something not quite right about David, his long stares into camera, his ludicrous ability to stay cool and calm, and his intimidating yet warm presence all sound major alarm bells. Quickly, Caleb’s sister, Anna (Maika Monroe) begins to suspect something is wrong and David’s true nature begins to emerge.
I don’t wish to reveal any more about the plot of the movie so as to avoid spoilers, but I will say this: it is not what you expect. All the above may sound fairly generic and unoriginal, however I assure you it is not, both in terms of the actual plot and the way in which the plot is beautifully realized on the screen from the Simon Barrett’s screenplay, The Guest is much more than you’re average home invasion flick, and that is why it is so interesting.
As I mentioned earlier- it is hard to define which genre this piece fits into. In the end, I concluded that it was a movie of 3 parts, and 3 different genres. To me, the movie begins with a straight up thriller, all of the tension and intrigue of classic thrillers is evident with an underlying theme of the unknown driving the story. The taut opening act that introduces the characters and the potential conflict focuses on the emotions and drama within the Peterson family whilst also engaging in the mystery surrounding the new addition to said family. Shortly after a house party in the relatively early stages of the movie the tone and direction changes to that of an action movie. As soon as a phone call is overheard the pace is driven up to 10 and not only do full scale gun fights ensue but even governmental agents and special police tactical forces get involved. It screams classic action movie. Finally, the movie’s last act, which begins precisely at the point at which the remaining two protagonists enter a Halloween- themed school disco, is a straight up slasher horror. It contains all the classic conventions us horror hounds have grown to love and love to hate, including but not limited to; creaky floorboards, jump scares, blocked exits, limited cell-phone coverage and of course the almost invincible antagonist. The combining of these three genres, quite distinctly I may add as-well, really adds to the enjoyment of the film- it is fast paced, over-the-top, enthralling and just plain good fun.
What makes this movie even more fun for the people who have some film knowledge is the extent to which Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett play on the cliches of each genre and create an excellent pastiche of the movie world. I say pastiche because it refers to a work of art that plays homage to a certain other form of art, rather than mocking it in parody form. Pastiche celebrates- and that is exactly what The Guest does. It celebrates the early 70’s and 80’s horror, thriller and action movies throughout the movies run-time, whether that be through abrupt and quick cut editing and soundtrack changes, long landscape shots, musical motifs, cliched characters or dialogue- “Sir, we have a situation,” or even just the generally retro feel of the whole movie, the whole film is a movie celebration. Right from the opening credits it is clear to the audience that you are not about to watch your every day, run-of-the-mill summer movie, the campy vibe of those old style credits is sustained throughout and to great effect. The soundtrack, in particular, does a fantastic job at setting the mood and tone of the piece- it never takes itself too seriously,and that is why it is so much goddamn fun!
I was genuinely on edge throughout The Guest, I was excited and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I am a huge fan of this sort of postmodern, self-aware film-making and Wingard and Barrett have once again pulled off the right balance of self-referential humor and genuinely serious film-making, just like in their last outing together- 2013’s You’re Next. The action is brutal and fun, with shocks coming left, right and center- with a particular one in a quarry over the exchange of guns being sadistically hilarious. This movie absolutely will not be for everybody, I fully expect it to divide opinion when it is released in the US on the 17th of September, but if you can appreciate this type of generic satire and are willing to just let it happen to you, I can guarantee you will love it!
The Wingard and Barrett team are certainly one to watc
The Guest opens in US theaters 09/17/14.