Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have made quite a name for themselves over the past few years, responsible for such genre offerings as V/H/S and last year’s stellar You’re Next. Their latest film, The Guest, serves as a nice change of pace, scrapping the straight-up horror elements of their past few flicks in favor of a slow-burn thriller that hearkens back to ’80s action fare.
David (Dan Stevens) is a recently discharged Army veteran who appears on the doorstep of the Peterson family, fulfilling the promise of a fallen comrade to check up on his parents and siblings. Still mourning the loss of their son, the Petersons welcome David into their home, where he quickly assimilates himself into their daily routine. Shy, awkward Luke (Brendan Meyer) takes an immediate liking to David, but eldest daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) sense that something is amiss.
As Anna begins digging into his background, she finds plenty of problems with David’s story about his past. Indeed, the polite, mild-mannered soldier who addresses everyone as “sir” and “ma’am” definitely seems to be hiding something, and a phone call to the military base from which David was discharged results in a startling discovery that may put the entire Peterson clan in danger.
The entire experience works so well thanks to Stevens, who portrays David as a better-looking, more sincere version of Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive. Stevens has a genuine warmth to him, which finds us willing to forgive the frequent, savage outbursts of violence. He’s so incredibly likeable that no matter how bad he may seem, we still don’t really want to hate him.
With its electro-synth score and ever-increasing tension, The Guest has a distinct John Carpenter vibe. Indeed, Wingard recently told us that he wanted to follow a structure similar to Carpenter’s Halloween – which he mostly adheres to, before the third act finds the film wandering out of action thriller territory and striding confidently, purposefully into the “WTF” zone. Once again, the creative duo deftly handles the dramatic shift in tone, making sure their narrative always stays a step or two ahead of the audience.