The Guest (2014)
Inmates barely self-evident but the nascent screenwriter should embark upon his craft with a few fundamental items. Among these should be a dictionary and thesaurus and a rather eclectic library of movies that are generally considered the epitome of their respective genres. Simple enough, a thriller should provide thrills; a mystery should keep the audience guessing horror movie should be scary. I realize this comes across as ridiculously obvious but as I’m sure many long time film buffs will agree all too many movies purporting to be in a certain category only to contain none of the required elements that define it. I have also just as confident in my supposition that director Adam Wingard and his frequent screenwriting partner, Simon Barrett, not only have work areas with the aforementioned items but that there would be a lot of dust upon them demonstrating their frequent use as reference material. I have seen and names pop up with regularity as I am called upon to review various entries into the horror genre. I have associated their names were not only some of the highest quality examples of what this cinematic category can hold but also as filmmakers that stand beyond the limitations of a certain type of moviemaking. Together they represent an amazingly focused team storytellers with one crafting the words and the other bringing them to life on the screen. The last feature-length film of tears that I’ve had the privilege to review was ‘Your Next’. In this film they took the all-too-familiar trope of the home invasion and twisted it into something beyond the nightmarish scenario the circumstances normally hold. That was done through a combination of expertly manipulating the circumstances and setting and clever plot twists infuse the very core of the character development. In their latest cooperative effort, ‘The Guest’, they once again proved that a combination of mystery, thriller and horror has not been relegated to the ‘made for quick buck’ section of your online video store, but there are still filmmakers who are devoted to quality, to giving the audience the story he deserved by fulfilling their own artistic integrity.
There is no axiomatic way to consider the opening scenes of the film as an indication of what is become. Some filmmakers prefer to let the stories similar for a while before exploding in a boil. Others will give you something quick and intense, immediately pulling your attention to the screen. In this movie a variation of the latter approach was used. A deserted road toward desert, a tight close-up of the man as he is shot from behind in the image of combat boots or proceeding sudden burst of the musical score as received a scarecrow just before the opening credits. Once again this seems rather straightforward but having just come off a series of seems to have been an unending plethora of horror films it is a pleasure to see an opening scene as to the point and the void of distracting special-effects or overly contrived CGI openings. The filmmakers here are honest with their audience and from the very first image let us know that they are in for film with twists, turns unexpected action.
Laura (Sheila Kelley) and a husband, Spencer Peterson (Leland Orser), live a quiet suburban life still in mourning over the death of their oldest son Caleb (Chris Harding), who was killed in action in Afghanistan. The two remaining children, Anna (Maika Monroe), a teenager and her grade school younger brother, Luke (Brendan Meyer), each trying to deal with their grief the best they can. One day the stranger comes to the door who introduces himself as David (Dan Stevens), a soldier who knew Caleb oversees. With an accent that places his origin somewhere in Kentucky he appears to be a polite and straightforward man that there to fulfill the promise. It down to Caleb that he would come back stateside and help seek to his family. He rapidly begins to bond with each of the Peterson’s, initially by telling the family stories about Caleb and what a good person he was. Soon the parents invited him to stay in Caleb’s old room.
As mandated by his vow to serve as the family is protector, David does interject himself into a problem was having with bullies at school. The look in the eyes of the boy’s tormentors was one of a predator that just realized an alpha predator has moved into their territory. Despite glimpses of his buff physique and it catches of a house guest on the way to the shower, the teenage girl cannot shake the growing suspicions she has of this strange new addition to the household. Although David does keep a secret Anna would rather have parents that know about, she still thinks is polite, helpful demeanor is a façade covering something potentially more sinister. There the girl while Anna and the rest of the family have to wait long until the truth about David emerges.
The film was constructed neatly around the traditional three act play. Act I introduces the principles bring them all together under one roof. This is done so smoothly that you could almost forget the starkly disturbing opening. Act II has David infusing himself into their lives while piquing the curiosity of young Anna. Finally in the third act the filmmaker delivers fully what you have been anticipating throughout the movie. As a team Wingard and Barrett are rapidly growing in their confidence as storytellers while refining the techniques revealing the subtleties of the story to nuances in the script and stylistic touches in the direction. In some ways ‘The Guest’ is a refinement of the previous collaboration mentioned above, ‘You’re Next’. It is possible to also see a few of the elements present in another early work of the path, ‘A Horrible Way to Die’. I was sufficiently impressed by how well this movie held together I decided to put aside a weekend for little Wingard and Barrett festival. It was very rewarding to watch how this pair of artisans carefully honed their skills. During the time they have been working together they have delivered more in the way of, not only quality, but entertaining and cohesive movies. Of course this is not to say the film is perfect, very few are. Rather than detracting from the experience, the missteps that are present evidence that they are actively working on improving what they give to their fans. As with any form of artistic expression, those involved in cinema for a large part must learn by doing. Experimenting with technique is going to have some efforts turn out better than others but that is how greatness is achieved in this field. Wingard and Barrett have by far pulled themselves beyond the abilities of the majority of independent filmmakers specializing in horror. Like many who have invested a lot of time and effort into the enjoyment of movies; I have my own watch list of performers screenwriters and directors in order to be aware of any new projects on horizon. Mr. Wingard and Mr. Barrett will continue to occupy a prominent place on my list. They remind me of why I began to enjoy independent film in the first place; the drive, the originality and the obvious motivation of enjoying what they are doing.