“The Guest, on the other hand, is more reigned in, more polished. The conflict is character-based as opposed to situational and the characters themselves are altogether more likeable and real.”
The Guest was programmed as the final movie at this year’s TIFF Midnight Madness and for the longest time my friends and I couldn’t figure out why; the trailer makes it look like a tense drama. But we were assured The Guest is a Midnight Madness film through-and-through so it was with slightly higher expectations that we sat down to watch.
We were not disappointed.
Still mourning the loss of their son who died in action, the Peterson family opens their home to David. David served with the Peterson’s son and he’s now visiting the home to pay his respects. It doesn’t take long for David to endear himself to each member of the family but his loyalty comes at a price—death surrounds the family and though no one suspects it, David is the eye of the storm.
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are very upfront about the fact that The Guest is a melding of The Terminator and Halloween. David “comes home” to the Petersons and embarks on a mission to “protect” the family which involves a great deal of violence and death. Dan Stevens, who plays David, adopts a strong and calculating manner and his violence is carried out with almost robotic precision.
David’s mission to help the Petersons eventually turns into a mission to protect himself. Suspicious of David, daughter Anna does some digging and uncovers something completely unexpected. This is where the movie takes a sharp turn: David switches from benevolent to completely self-serving and the Petersons become a liability. The film keeps the audience a step ahead of the characters and the dramatic irony is delightfully thick. A few choice lines of dialogue really crank up the tension and the result is a tense third act in which David systematically eliminates all threats to his well-being.
The Guest, tense thriller though it is, is not without humour. In fact, the movie’s pretty funny but the humour never undermines the film’s serious tone. Rather, funny stuff serves to offset David’s menacing presence. Even at the end, in the midst of all the carnage, the script pulls off one more hilarious moment that only intensifies the horror for the characters.
Complimenting the movie’s look and feel is an amazing soundtrack and score. Keeping in line with The Guest‘s Halloween-inspired atmosphere of dread, the score was composed using the same brand and vintage of synthesizer Alan Howarth used back in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s a wonderfully moody sound that underscores the intensity onscreen. Even when David’s just driving around, the synth score creates a wonderful feeling of suspense. Paired with the score is a soundtrack of darkwave, goth, industrial, and alt rock that helps further reinforce The Guest‘s pensive atmosphere.
Personally, I didn’t much care for Wingard and Barrett’s previous outing, You’re Next. Overall I found it to be too contrived for my liking. The characters were too broadly drawn and the situation too outlandish to be taken seriously. The Guest, on the other hand, is more reigned in, more polished. The conflict is character-based as opposed to situational and the characters themselves are altogether more likeable and real. Somewhat amazingly, The Guest is based on a script Barrett started ages ago and scrapped. I think it’s safe to say that I and the rest of the Midnight Madness audience were so pleased to see it resurrected in this state.