The Guest is one of the biggest surprises of the past few years. This immersive thriller is a treat on almost every level. The performances are a little hit or miss, but that doesn’t stop The Guest from being one of 2014’s most criminally underrated films.
The Peterson’s are still struggling over the loss of their member, Caleb, from the war in Afghanistan when Caleb’s friend David (Dan Stevens) comes knocking on their door. David promised Caleb on his deathbed that he would tell the Peterson’s that Caleb was thinking about them until the end and that he loves them. Mrs. Peterson (Sheila Kelley) thanks David for what he’s done and offers him Caleb’s bedroom until he gets settled somewhere. David promises to help out in return, and does so in some pretty extreme ways.
Writer Simon Barrett took the generic “stranger terrorizes people” story and gave it originality. Instead of a lifeless Michael Myers or Jason, we are given a real character with David. He’s friendly with a soothing voice, but is also a military trained psychopath who won’t think twice about seriously harming someone. He is unpredictably terrifying, and it makes for one hell of an impactful villain.
Aside from David, Barrett did a terrific job giving personality to the Peterson family. You have the bullied boy, the rebel girl, the stressed dad, and the caring mother. Seeing them interact and play with David is one of the film’s strongpoints. Adding in some solid dialogue and a swift pace (with a tight 90 minute runtime), and Simon Barrett has crafted a brilliant screenplay.
Director Adam Wingard thankfully does that screenplay justice. The Halloween atmosphere is creepy, the techno soundtrack is catchy, and the camera work is on-point (props to Robby Baumgartner’s work as cinematographer). Wingard’s work gives Barrett’s screenplay an extra push to further make an impact on the audience.
The movie unfortunately falters with the performances. Every member of the Peterson family has their high and low points. Sometimes you’ll get solid work, other times you’ll get sloppy work.
And then there’s Dan Stevens as David. Wow. What a terrific performance. He’s caring and fun and then switches to this disturbingly heartless character on a dime. It’s one of the best performances of the year that’s made all the more impressive since it’s the only consistently great performance in the film.
Some may look at The Guest and see an above-average thriller and nothing more. Others will hopefully admire this movie’s brilliance. Even with a couple of inconsistent performances, director Adam Wingard, writer Simon Barrett, and star Dan Stevens came together and made one of the most well-crafted thrillers in years.