TIFF Journal: ‘The Guest’

'The Guest'

Movie Rating:


‘The Guest’ serves a mash-up of horror, thriller and action genre tropes in a way that hasn’t really been seen since the 1980s. The movie would feel completely appropriate to open with the Cannon Group logo. In the case, that’s a good thing.

Director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are fast becoming the best filmmaking team in genre film. They’ve already made the underrated serial killer shocker ‘A Horrible Way to Die’, created the popular ‘V/H/S‘ anthology series, and delivered the downright brilliant horror/comedy ‘You’re Next‘. Now the duo returns with ‘The Guest’, a film which should only add to their reputation and expand their resume.

Though marketed as a horror movie and filled with horror references, cues and an oppressive sense of dread, the film nudges out of the genre ever so slightly. Specifically, ‘The Guest’ harkens back to a time in the ’80s when the line between thrillers, horror movies and action flicks was blurred through titles like ‘The Terminator’ and pretty much anything by John Carpenter. Wingard and Barrett have delivered a movie that feels like it’s part of all three genres and could explode out into any of them at any second. Plus, it has a pretty fantastic soundtrack and a 2.35 aspect ratio. So yes, John Carpenter is the main point of comparison in the best possible sense.

The plot involves an ex-soldier (Dan Stevens) who shows up at a suburban family home claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. He seems impossibly kind and charming, so the family keeps him around. But then he gets a little too interested in everyone’s lives, and people in the town start dying in ways that seem a little too convenient to those closest to the mysterious charmer. That’s the setup, and even that doesn’t quite cover the film and story that Wingard and Barrett have delivered. It’s a pressure cooker of suspense filled with creepy ambience, explosions of violence, radical tonal shifts and an oddball dark sense of humor, all combined into a movie that somehow balances the competing tones with ease.

‘The Guest’ probably isn’t the best project the filmmaking team has delivered to date, but it cements the voice they’ve developed together and pushes their filmmaking interests ever so slightly into new genres. It’s a nostalgic blast for ’80s genre movie hounds yet still feels completely current.

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