When a soldier turns up at the Petersen’s house, claiming to have served with their son – who died in Iraq – the family welcome him with varying degrees of warmth. It is not long, however, before David (Dan Stevens) has won the family over, but when a series of deaths occur – seemingly connected to the mysterious soldier – Anna Petersen (Maika Monroe) begins to get suspicious about David, charming though he is.
When reading the synopsis for The Guest, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a by the numbers horror flick, with little new to offer. The truth, however, is that The Guest lovingly sends up the great 80s mystery/horror flicks, while being a surprisingly funny and engaging thriller.
Dan Stevens steps away from his most famous role in Downton Abbey, to play a soldier with secrets that he wants to keep. Playing rather like a Ken doll with a taste for blood and a strong sense of loyalty, David becomes a comedically creepy character, but never one that you would feel safe laughing at. Maika Monroe takes on much of the rest of the film, playing the slightly wild, but rightly suspicious daughter of the family. Monroe plays the disaffected teenager well, and is a great foil for the seemingly perfect David. The rest of the cast is made up of Joel David Moore, Candice Patton, Sheila Kelley and Ethan Embry.
The story is designed to unsettle the audience from the start; why would a soldier turn up on the door of a friend’s family unannounced? From there, the film begins to feel a little like Season Four of Buffy The Vampire Slayer – the one with the super soldiers and the government plot – with a sprinkling of Drive thrown in – through Stevens’ performance and some great 80s tunes – for good measure. This may not be a completely original idea for a film, but the script feels natural, there are some great one-liners and the final action sequence is so ’80s and over the top that it is hard not to love the film.
Director Adam Wingard plays up the intentionally campy elements of the film, making The Guest a hilariously sinister experience. Dan Stevens embodies the super soldier who feels and acts more like a robot than a human being, and is surrounded by people we know from our own lives; the burn out, the girl with the bad boyfriend, the girl with loose morals. Of course, the cloches are played up, but there is an air of mystery and menace that pervades the entire film, turning what could easily have been a caricature of a bad ’80s movie into an homage of the great horror thrillers that have gone before. There are times where the tone of the film gets a little garbled, but this quickly gives way to a fantastic campy flick.
The Guest is a silly and over the top experience, filled with mystery, menace and dark comedy. The film gives nods to the great campy horror/thrillers of the past, while blending together some of the greatest elements of Buffy and Drive. There are times where the film feels a little jumbled, but soon sorts itself out, blows away the dry ice, and gets on with the camp bloodfest.