THE GUEST **** USA / UK 2014 Dir: Adam Wingard. 99 mins
Director Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s follow-up to knowing latter-day slasher YOU’RE NEXT was this clever, 80s-hued thriller, defined by its filmmaker as an inverted HALLOWEEN filtered through THE TERMINATOR.
Hunky Dan Stevens turns up at the family home of Leland Orser and Sheila Kelley, convincing them that he served with their (recently deceased) son in combat and, following discharge, wants to pay his respects. They let this well-mannered young man stay in their son’s old room, while he proves popular with their much-bulled younger son and hormonal teenage daughter (Maika Monroe). Besting bullies and beating up malicious exes, the new guy in town also clearly has a dark streak a mile wide.
This starts out as a seemingly straight-faced variation on all those early 90s home-invasion Hollywood thrillers that followed in the wake of FATAL ATTRACTION – but it gets odder and funnier as it goes on. Wingard and Barrett wittily employ tropes of this sub-genre, including the fact that all the adults are stupidly unsuspecting of The Guest’s sinister side while the more perceptive kids appear switched-on from the get-go. Set to a pulsing, evocative synth soundtrack – including an original score by Steve Moore that’s heavily influenced by HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH – the film detours into deliberately overblown retro action movie territory complete with slo-mo and machine gunfire.
Aside from all the magnificent 80s electronica and Goth-pop, the biggest pleasure is its anarchic edge, resulting in a tremendous assault on an all-American diner set to the tune of Stevie B’s schmaltz classic “Because I Love You”, and a droll climax at the school’s Halloween celebrations. The punchline is a suitably throwaway homage to vintage slasher cinema. Monroe is a standout as the daughter torn between teen lust and instincts, while Stevens shines in a star-making, pitch-perfect balance of immense charisma and subtly conveyed psychosis.
Review by Steven West