Look like th’ innocent flower,
But be the serpent under ’t.
Overview: A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family as a friend of their deceased son, but being welcomed into their home, a series of questionable deaths unfold. 2014; Icon Films; Rated R; 99 Minutes.
You Need to Lock That Tone Down: The Guest has no idea what it wants to be. Tonally, it’s all over the place. Plotwise, it can be a bit schizophrenic. It veers between being a horror film, a romantic comedy, a feel good drama, a slasher movie, a Jason Bourne knock-off, a farce, and something a bit sci-fi-ish. The weird thing is that it succeeds at each of these genres but, like a soup made using tomatoes and cement blocks, the ingredients do not mix as well as they should.
It’s an ’80s Thing: At its center, the movie is an ’80s throwback in the vein of the Stepdad series of films in which a stranger integrates himself into a family home and then starts killing people. Adam Wingard supports this nostalgic construction with a soundtrack loaded with synth music and a final set piece set in a school gymnasium that’s been set up for a Halloween-themed prom (actually a very cool set with all spooky corridors and halls of mirrors).
At some point the movie starts to take itself very seriously; after all, the original premise is that of a man showing up at a family’s doorstep to talk about the dying moments of the son they lost in Afghanistan. But, until that moment, the film seems to be spoofing itself and having a good time as an ultra violent shoot’em-up. While each segment is strong in the vacuum of its own construction, these tonal shifts are so abrupt, they become jarring.
The Nicest House Guest: Plot and tone inconsistency aside, this movie manages success based solely upon Dan Stevens’ performance. At times, he radiates fireside warmth. Other times he is glacially cold, his blue eyes dead like doll’s eyes. Throughout the film, his eyes, the colour of storm clouds, are constantly shining like broken glass. Even though his smile is radiant, welcoming, he is clearly a wolf in wolf’s clothing.
The supporting cast is serviceable, though I will say Maika Monroe does well in the role of the girl who suspects that the stranger is up to no good (and also a victim of the director’s fetish for knee socks). And Lance Riddick (star of two of my favourite shows, The Wire and Fringe) shows up to kick some ass and bug his eyes at underlings.
Overview: Originally, I was not sure I had enjoyed this movie, but further reflection allowed me to look upon it more positively. But Stevens did well with his role, and I look forward to seeing him in future roles. Given the right material, he will be amazing.