starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick
screenplay by Simon Barrett
directed by Adam Wingard
by Walter Chaw With The Guest, Adam Wingard continues his examination of '80s exploitation genre flicks--'90s, too: the film is among other things a canny update of James Foley's Fear, which was home to not only Mark Wahlberg's best performance but arguably Carter Burwell's finest hour as well. Like Wingard's You're Next, The Guest acts like what it mimics and, like any good predator, breaks from camouflage at the most unexpected moments. It's funny throughout for the fan familiar with this sort of thing, but it's really funny in its final shot, when it reveals an understanding that people love movies like this because of their absurdity and not in spite of it. Best is how in its focused nastiness, it highlights exactly how grim-verging-on-nihilistic '80s teensploitation often was, how low it was willing to go, how ugly it was willing to get. Yeah, I loved it.
Home from war, "David" (Dan Stevens), the best buddy of a dead soldier, delivers the last battlefield salutations and earns a spot at the table of his friend's grieving family. Mom (Sheila Kelly), Dad (Leland Orser), sister Anna (Maika Monroe), and little brother Luke (Brendan Meyer) welcome him initially out of some sense of duty, sure, but also because David is a perfect gentleman bursting with charm, a great haircut, and a bangin' body. It doesn't hurt that he helps Luke out with a bully problem and likes Anna's music enough that she makes him a mix CD. Already unbelievably '80s, The Guest sent me into a nostalgia euphoria by sprinkling its spot-on Drive-esque soundtrack with deep cuts from "So Alive"-era Love and Rockets and Clan of Xymox. At a certain point, it's so purely a delivery system for a different era and feeling in film that it feels like we're bearing witness to the birth of a new subgenre. Alas, it's so dependent on that familiarity, not only with the content, but also with the experiential texture of late-'80s/early-'90s "other" flicks, that I do wonder at its impact on audiences outside of a very specific demographic.
If you're in the know, you know that David is not at all what he seems--that he's most likely the product of some kind of military super-soldier program and that his desire to help out his human buddies is born from bad wiring. It's not just Universal Soldier, in other words, it's a little bit of E.T., too; or Short Circuit. D.A.R.Y.L.?. Stevens is brilliant as this Eddie Haskell-cum-Terminator (he even emerges naked from steam at one point, like the T-800), ingratiating himself into an entirely reasonable scenario and only occasionally, in the beginning, demonstrating that little tiny bit of psychopathology that points to the picture's conclusion. The climax, in a Lady from Shanghai hall of mirrors with Anna dressed like Alice, literally through a looking glass, is pure delight. David is a killing machine in the Rambo/Lethal Weapon tradition: an all-American creation of well-tooled, cornbread, flyover violence and the mechanism through which we celebrate that. The Guest is a good time from a guy who continues to demonstrate why something works, and how, too. There aren't a lot of directors like that right now. I'm ready for him to hit one out of the park.