Directed by Adam Winguard (2014)
by Sandy DeVito
I've been putting off writing a review of this movie because I'm not sure I can properly explain how much I love it. Sometimes you watch something that seems as though it was made specifically for you, you know what I mean? Like the writer, director, the cinematographer, the editor, the actors: everyone got a peek inside your brain and tailored their work to whatever would best amuse and delight you. You know how sometimes you read a book and you love it so much that when you get to the end it's like you have to go through a grieving process to let it go (a book that I had that experience with: Stephen King's 11/22/63)? Sometimes movies hit you that way, too. For me, The Guest is like a beloved friend. Like a friend I've told my secrets to, and they accept and love me, anyway.
A mysterious stranger, David (Dan Stevens) shows up at the home of the Petersons, claiming to be a friend of a lost family member. At first he seems impossibly kind, helpful, and effortlessly cool, but soon Anna (Maika Monroe) begins to suspect there may be more to David than first appears. Even that might be saying too much. This is a film I strongly believe is one you should go into knowing as little as possible. I had not seen a trailer or read a synopsis before I saw this (despite being a fan of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's previous film You're Next) and in retrospect I was so glad. Not knowing how anything was going to unfold here really made this experience special for me. The list of triumphant moments, scene compositions, memorable performances and exceedingly stylish and clever exposition in this film still takes my breath away every time I watch it, but Stevens' and Monroe's performances in particular make this film extremely special. This is the role that undoubtedly brought Stevens the much-deserved attention that won him the role of the Beast in Disney's (already) incredibly successful Beauty and the Beast (as of my writing this, it's made almost $200 million and we're only a few weeks past its opening weekend [Editor's note: it's now at over $470 million domestically]) and FX's oddball Legion (which I am really enjoying). Stevens has astounding range, gaining notoriety originally in Downton Abbey; to go from a period drama to a movie like this is no small feat, and Stevens is transformed utterly. It's also clear that Wingard and Barrett are huge genre fans themselves; all of their films have countless nods and easter eggs referencing great genre films that have preceded them (if you listen to the commentary, Wingard mentions the shot of David with the Halloween III masks behind him is his favorite in the film, for one), but in The Guest particularly they've created a genre cult classic all their own, a movie to stand beside the best of them in equal footing.
I've listened to the soundtrack ad nauseam; music is such an essential part of a movie experience, in my mind, and great films have music that brings us closer to the mood of a story and the emotions of its characters. This movie's soundtrack is flawless, at once effortlessly cool, darkly romantic, and piercingly adroit. It drags us right where it wants us and woos us until we are weak to its piercing, melancholic power. Like David, it has secrets, and it takes its time with us. Fine by me.
This movie is perfect: disarmingly funny, hot as fuck, achingly moody, icy cool, whip-smart, fun as hell, beautifully violent, violently creative. Some films just have an understanding with their intended audience, and a knack for conveying their stories beyond the confines of hum-drum fictional universes of genre past. This movie knows exactly who it is: it's seductive spell is one whose power never seems to dull over me. One of the best genre films of the 21st century.