The Guest is one of those films that somehow slipped under my radar till I was offered the opportunity to get a screener to review. I looked it up, and recognised the old Blu-Ray cover—and of course to notice the presence of Dan Stevens, who was fantastic in Legion, probably the most narratively challenging and inventive piece of film/TV that has a basis in a Marvel comic book. And as it turned out, The Guest turned out to be one of the better genre films I’ve seen in a while.
Like a lot of the best genre films, it’s a fairly simple set-up: a former U.S. soldier going by the name of Dave (Dan Stevens), shows up unexpectedly at the Peterson residence, claiming he was friends with their son Caleb, who died in Afghanistan. He claims Caleb wanted him to check in on them. The family are very welcoming, and invite Dave to stay as long as he needs to. However, very soon bodies start piling up, and Caleb’s sister Anna soon has some suspicions that Dave may not be exactly who he says he is—and is in some way involved with the recent death toll.
It’s simply a really solid thriller, with some smart subtext about the war on terror, but never preachy. The performances are all really strong, with Stevens being the obvious standout. He learned a thing or two from Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive, but he is a bit more talkative. High Plains Drifter was a big influence for Wingard and the film’s screenwriter Simon Barrett, and like that film, The Guest is about a mysterious stranger coming to town, and plays around with some horror movie conventions without really being a “horror film.” The rest of the supporting cast are just fine. Leland Orser, who has been one of the best character actors around ever since that scene in Se7en, is always interesting on screen. Wingard deliberated chose character actors instead of leading actors for the parts, and it really paid off. Chase Williamson and Lance Reddick have memorable supporting roles as well.
You could do a lot worse than The Guest—it’s an extremely well-paced and entertaining thriller that is fairly inventive, even if it openly wears its influences on its sleeve… you could totally see John Carpenter doing something like this in the early to mid ’80s. The score also evokes ’80s genre filmmaking, but never in hugely nostalgic fashion, and has some interesting song choices, mainly consisting of ’80s British Goth bands like The Sisters of Mercy and Clan of Xymox. Stevens’ performance also anchors the whole thing, he has natural charisma on-screen, so no wonder he has been in demand ever since.