|'The Guest feels as though it could (should?) have been significant, but instead it opts for cheap thrills direct from the straight-to-video shelf.'|
The Guest is one of those films that plays around a little with genre with the intention to innovate, but instead gets to the point where the satisfaction inherent in its genres is tested to breaking point. The start of The Guest, almost a Mystery-style setup, is very satisfying. The end of The Guest, from a different genre entirely, is also satisfying. Put together though, the two make uncomfortable bedfellows. The second half works in its own right, but paired with the slick setup it feels uneven and lumpy.
That setup begins with David (Dan Stevens) arriving in the Peterson family home, claiming to be an ex-army colleague of the family's now deceased son. Clearly, something is amiss, but what is it? David seems amiable enough, even if he does present a different, slightly more violent side, to the Peterson children, Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer) than to the Peterson parents (Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser).
Director Adam Wingard has a Horror background, which throws something more into the mix, though it rather just sits there, threatening much but delivering little, which is the problem with Wingard's film as a whole. The Guest feels as though it could (should?) have been significant, but instead it opts for cheap thrills direct from the straight-to-video shelf.
Wingard shoots the whole thing as if he has seen Winding-Refyn's Drive, which is always welcome but makes the Peterson house segments look unnecessarily artificial. Stevens, wrestling with a US accent, is convincing during the action, but less so in the quiet drama. There's evidence this is intentional: David is playing a part, badly, and Anna is on to him. Monroe is sparky in support, even if she's unfairly marginalised during the opening.
The finale puts the characters into the kind of stylised locale you would normally find in Wingard's favoured Horror genre, slightly ironically calling to mind such straight genre staples as Scream. It harks back to an earlier scene at a teen party, which features all of the staples with none of the logic. Did this really need a topless scene? If its so eager to manipulate some of the genres it touches on, why does it conform to their worst elements?
That might suggest that I'm more down on The Guest than I am: it's actually fine, an enjoyable one to watch on VOD, with elements to admire. There's just evidence here that a little refining would have led to more than that.