The Guest review: A super-sleeper of a black-comedy thriller

Film Title: The Guest

Director: Adam Wingard

Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick

Genre: Crime

Running Time: 99 min

Fri, Sep 5, 2014, 14:54

   

Blue-eyed soldier boy David (Dan Stevens) arrives in a small New Mexican town to visit the family of a fallen comrade. The grieving mom (Sheila Kelley) notices that the young Iraq War veteran has appeared, as if from nowhere, but David’s “yes ma’am” manners soon put her at ease. The family are not in great emotional shape: dad has hit the bottle, teenager Luke is sullen and withdrawn, and his older goth sister Anna (Maika Monroe) stays in her room making mix-tapes.

Might their new guest allow the healing to begin? Perhaps. David soon makes himself useful by tackling Luke’s schoolyard tormentors, hanging out the household washing and carrying kegs around a party Anna attends. But Anna continues to suspect that David is not all that he seems to be.

She has no idea.

Adam Wingard is the mumblegore horror hotshot behind the better bits of the V/H/S portmanteau horror and the 2011 cult favourite You’re Next. The latter’s hefty profit margin – $25 million back from six figures – has allowed the hyphenate director, editor, cinematographer and writer to move up divisions with a budget of more than $1 million.

Being accustomed to producing his earlier, murkier movies for $20,000 or so, Mr Wingard knows well how to get more bang for your buck. Armed with something approaching a real budget, he now puts on one hell of a show. The Guest, a thriller that becomes a horror that transitions into a hilarious truncation of every 1980s action picture and back again, is as extravagant and ambitious a film as you’ll see all year. Picture Commando as a psychological thriller. Imagine Halloween as a theme park ride. Think Drive as a comedy.

A cleverly picked constellation of TV favourites – Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, LA Law’s Sheila Kelley, Fringe’s Lance Reddick – add some star wattage to an outrageous and outrageously entertaining hybrid.

Stevens keeps a poker-straight face as he delivers some of the year’s funniest lines. Maika Monroe’s screen magnetism is enough to keep Scar-Jo and J-Law awake during the long winter nights.

If Luc Beeson’s Lucy has left you jonesing for something that stands apart from the superheroes and straight-world toughs that populate the movieverse, then The Guest is a most welcome imposition.