Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s The Guest sets out to subvert the action and thriller genres, much like their film You’re Next wanted to play with horror film conventions. Though they have a little bit more success here than they did in You’re Next, the basic problem remains the same: their film isn’t so much a commentary or subversion of the genre as it is another standard entry. Just as You’re Next pretty much failed to add humor or say anything new about horror films (I still maintain that in order for a black comedy/horror hybrid to work, it has to be funny), The Guest struggles to find its tone.
The Guest feels like a late eighties/early nineties thriller you might have seen late at night on Showtime, with a justifiably lauded score by Steve Moore that helps create an effective mood. It has all of the pieces of a generic thriller, but I spent the first act waiting to see the point. From interviews with Wingard and Barrett that I’ve read online, it was clear that their goal was not simply a retread of an action/thriller, but rather a genre subversion; they were taking all of these standard elements and twisting it into something new. I don’t think they accomplished that.
The movie stars Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens, in an admittedly convincing and solid performance, as David, a former soldier visiting a fallen comrade’s family. He pretty quickly and easily worms his way into the family’s trust, though daughter Ana (Maika Moore) is a little apprehensive about David. Regarding the scenes with the family, they are so over the top that it has to be for a reason. I mean, the director and the writer knew what they were doing, right? Take Leland Orser as the father, for instance. In just about every scene where he appears, he gets upset and then says,”you wanna beer?” The family seems like they’re straight out of a dysfunctional family drama from the seventies, and I feel that there has to be a specific reason why.
Everything I know about the making of this film, and You’re Next, suggests to me that the filmmakers wanted to make a movie that plays with expectations of the genre, but it seems that this is just another example of a mediocre action/thriller, and not commentary on it (I did like, though, the blink and you miss it cameo by the fox mask from You’re Next).
In addition to Sheila Kelley and Orser as the parents, the film is peppered with familiar actors, including Lance Reddick, Joel David Moore and Ethan Embry. Some of these actors seem to be in on the joke, some of them don’t. The Guest is a skillfully made but completely pointless movie.
The Guest. 2014. Dir. Adam Wingard. With Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelley, Maika Moore, Leland Orser, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick. Written by Simon Barrett. Cinematography by Robby Baumgartner. United States.