The Guest

Release: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 (limited)


Written by:  Simon Barrett 

Directed by: Adam Wingard

British actor Dan Stevens elevates Adam Wingard’s thought-provoking and emotional mystery thriller to bloody awesome levels.

Though The Guest isn’t exactly a title free from spoiler potential, you’d be hard-pressed to make accurate guesses as to what ultimately becomes of a family willing to let a stranger into their house when he claims to be a close friend of their son Caleb who was recently killed in the war in Afghanistan. Even if you are particularly adept at mentally tracing the rough outline of a conclusion still unwitnessed, good luck coloring it in as well as Wingard’s continued collaboration with screenwriter Simon Barrett does.

The Guest, simplistic in its structure but anything but in terms of how it bathes its own guests in psychological discomfort, is definitely better because of Stevens. Though, Barrett’s script admittedly takes us to some interesting places. I have a bone to pick with those last two words, though. Those interesting places are still spaces we’ve seen many an actor in years past inhabit but for a brief flash only to then fade again. Whatever happens to the generic — are their creations rendered redundant in the face of superior genre films? Does A no longer count if B comes along and does it better? More relevant to what we’re talking about here, should we be concerned The Guest roots itself in questionable — albeit in the context of this story, understandable — human behavior?

Wingard, young and eager to prove his burgeoning talent, takes some risks in depicting degrees of emotional and psychological vulnerability. His project begins on shaky legs. The opening scenes are rushed and feel (taste?) slightly undercooked. But his destination demands greater attention. No matter your thoughts on what transpires over 70-ish minutes, the final 20 or so will command exactly that. Perhaps its Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser as the rather wooden parental figures that allow skepticism to arise sooner than it should (i.e. right out of the starting gate).

Or maybe doubt is sprung from some sort of scale we internally create in realizing how everything just pales in comparison to Downton Abbey‘s dapper Matthew Crawley. Dan Stevens as the enigmatic stranger beholden to the unseen soldier, save for a photograph set atop the stone mantel above the Peterson’s fireplace, is in good company when considering the likes of Ryan Gosling’s strong but silent type in Drive; Jake Gyllenhaal’s talkier but arguably more deranged journalist Lou Bloom; Robert DeNiro’s delirious cabbie Travis Bickle. But when the truth is finally revealed, it’s clear no one can really put David Collins into a corner. As a character, he may be cool but the thespian possesses so much power in his voice alone — never mind those washboard abs, heyyy-ohh!!! — he threatens to overtake the screen.

It’s the kind of breakout performance that will be his own challenge to outrun; Gosling only now seems a little more sociable since his days with Refn. May only God forgive Stevens for taking a second shot at becoming the unsettling, yet disconcertingly charming type.

Similarly disconcerting is The Guest‘s tendency to leave one questioning a few details along the way. Plot developments seem to turn conveniently but aren’t so obvious as to be off-putting. There is a notable divide in performance quality between the titular character and the several other main characters, but nothing comes across as too cheesy. Most importantly, such gut-wrenching adherence to real emotion and real settings, banal as a few of the latter are, overwhelms and leaves little to question in terms of the director’s intent. Wingard intended to provoke a startling mixture of empathy, dread and revulsion. We empathize with the Peterson’s plight, while dreading what their decisions may cost them.

Wingard’s generation of suspense is exquisite and if You’re Next was entertaining in that regard, his most recent effort certainly ups the ante.


4-0Recommendation: I haven’t even mentioned the Drive-esque soundtrack. So, there’s this to consider beyond The Guest‘s incredible lead performance, it’s mood and psychologically revealing depiction of a typical American family being stuck between a rock and a hard place. (I’m sorry for being so vague in this review; if I give away more info about it the shock of the experience will be greatly reduced.) If you want to know more about this film, be my guest and rent this as soon as possible. I refuse to say more.

Rated: R

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “You did the right thing. I don’t blame you.”

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63 thoughts on “The Guest

  1. Pingback: Four Years of DSB | digitalshortbread

  2. Glad you dug this one. I gave it high marks as well. It was a blast. Good write up. I always enjoy your command of words and observations to express your thoughts on a film. Well done bro.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I need to go back and read your take on it but yeah I do remember you being one of the first places where the news of this film broke for me. So I must thank you for that. I think it was you, Zoe (at Sporadic Chronicles) and one or two other blogs that had just rave reviews. And I must agree. This thing is super sweet. Might have to buy it.

      Isn’t that poster tight dude?


  3. Hey Tom! I just saw this last weekend and really enjoyed it! Great performance by Dan Stevens, convincingly bad ass & w/ a sense of humor, can’t beat that! Fantastic soundtrack too, perfect for one of my Music Break posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like a perfect way to take a look at this one. The soundtrack was definitely one of my favorite aspects to this little diddy. And of course, Dan Stevens. My goodness that guy was awesome here. I know its early but he has a good chance right now of being one of my favorite new actors of this year (new to me, that is.) I know he’s from Downton Abbey but I don’t really foresee me watching that show. haha


    • Hey man, thanks for stopping on by once more! Yes, I’m in with the hype on this one. (I’m not sure if you’ve seen my post on American Sniper, but that was one I didn’t so much buy into it.) ‘The Guest’ is a thoroughly enjoyable genre film. Dan Stevens I would say is my favorite actor of 2015 so far. But that’s not very fair given that we’re only one month into the new year. haha

      Liked by 1 person

    • This movie took me some time to get to; I only saw it in a local RedBox machine and recalled how many great reviews I saw of it so I finally snatched it up. It never came through Knoxville, which I thought was a decent enough-sized market for it to come. Alas, some of the true gems of the film year remain out of reach for many. Hope you can get to this sooner rather than later Mr. Fletcher, it sounds like it’s up your alley. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • ‘The Guest’ as a story isn’t something that blew me away but man this was an intensely awesome performance from an actor I knew absolutely zip about. Then I find out he’s in Downton Abbey, hahah! Great stuff man, amazing is the perfect word for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly. This is going to open up so many doors for Stevens. There’s an Escape from New York remake on the horizon, I’d like to see him in that!

        The soundtrack is what really got me, it just works so well with the tone of the film.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The soundtrack is, pardon the pun, killer. It reminded me so much of what a cool, electronica-heavy score did for the movie ‘Drive.’ This one might have even been better. I might have to eventually buy this one. Dan Stevens really makes things so much better here.

          Interested about ‘Escape from New York’ remake, if only for another chance to see what else this guy can do. I have to say, though he’s great here, I don’t think I’ll ever take a look at Downton Abbey. That show is so not my thing. lol

          Liked by 1 person

    • I can understand the length of time it is taking you to digest this one. I actually did something I rarely do for this one; I watched it twice before writing anything about it. I usually like to write reviews after the one-time view, kind of as a personal rule I like to write about my initial impressions. When you watch things multiple times you round out your views — which a lot of the time really prob makes for better reviews, but I’ve never operated that way. This time it was different. I actually did this more out of an awe for Dan Steven’s character.

      He was just great. Loved him. The governmental conspiracy thing, though. . . also a little shopworn but in this context it really worked.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yet more praise!? I really need to get my ass in gear on this one. I’ve had a copy for about 2month and I always forget about it when I’m choosing something to watch. Fine work mucker!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my gosh man, pop this thing in already would ya?! I know I speak for several cool kids around here when I say this is a compelling and heady journey into the heart of humanity. Or perhaps the lack thereof. What compels a family to accept a stranger into their home? Well, The Guest pitches a perfectly reasonable situation in which something like this can happen. I had a few issues with how it initially starts out and the story does take turns into shopworn territory but Wingard’s vision ultimately prevails. He’s a great director IMO. I really enjoyed his previous effort too.

      Now, to see what he has contributed to those V/H/S anthologies. . . .


      • Okay, its just finished! Ebjoyed the whole feel going on that soundtrack was excellent. Very much like Drive in that respect. I have to say, though, I’m not massive on it. Its a decent little flick with some major plot problems but, as you mention, Dan Stevens sells it well. He delivers a superb central performance and the film works mostly for him. A good little B-movie that channels some horror traits!.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fair enough sir. Was it the opening sequence that threw you off? I almost panicked with Sheila Kelly’s all-too-sudden invitation to let this guy in through her fucking front door. It seemed a bit contrived. There were some also sketchy acting bits throughout.

          For me, though, Stevens held it together. He was better than Gosling was in Drive, and that film also had a few patches of questionable development (or so I thought). Great to hear your thoughts so quick man. No point bothering with reading your review now. . . . .



          • I wasn’t too bothere with the opening but I see where you’re going. In all honesty, i was prepared for some bad acting and cheesy moments. It certainly had them but I overlooked them. It was more about the development of the characters motivations that annoyed me.

            I probably wont write a review. I’m very selective on what i review now – due to time constraints. Decent little flick but I’m a self confessed adorer of Drive and even though i appreciated what this was going for, it didn’t hit those heights for me.


        • I don’t think it has “major” plot problems. It is intentionally supposed to have a 80’s action and horror movie feel. All the goofiness, silliness, and tone-fucking is very reminiscent of movies from that era.

          I get that they are problems in your eyes, but I think the filmmakers are totally aware of what they have created. Certainly sounded like it as well from their Q & A…

          (The acting in family situations is also exaggerated…purposely.)

          Liked by 1 person

    • I really think your review was one of those that put this into must-see contention for me. it received a pretty damn high score from you from what I recall (maybe as high as a 9?), and now I have to say that that really does justice here. I think I liked the guest, the character more than The Guest the movie, but that’s not saying I didn’t think the journey wasn’t worth taking. It definitely was. There were some parts that were more suspect than others, but then again no movie is ever going to avoid some level of cliche, just like a director is never going to avoid having to resort to shopworn techniques to make an idea come across. Adam Wingard uses the best of the cliched to create a thoroughly enjoyable movie. Glad I caught it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am so happy to hear that I got you to check it out and that you enjoyed it so much! A 9, yes. It was so perfect! I think a lot of it was deliberate, and hence it worked so well. Either way, I can see myself watching this a few times!

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