The Guest Is Badass Genre Cinema At Its FinestPosted: September 20, 2014
If you wanted to summarize The Guest, the best way is to just describe the title character, David (Dan Stevens). It presents itself in a certain way while still emanating a vague sense of unease and tension, and it jumps between threatening, funny, action-packed and ridiculous at will, while still always feeling like the same person. Another way to summarize The Guest is that it represents what indie genre cinema can and should be, and should cement the team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett as one of the best in making this type of movie.
Many reviews have concentrated on the distinct throwback-’80s vibe that runs through The Guest, and while that is certainly there it is far from the defining feature of the film. In my mind, the defining feature of The Guest is how unrelentingly fun and- more importantly- funny it is. Wingard and Barrett demonstrate an almost supernatural instinct for knowing when to elicit a tension-breaking laugh from the audience, and do so without ever making the film itself feel like a joke. They find a variety of ways to accomplish this: smash-cuts in the middle of over-dramatic music cues, or a nice use of deadpan reactions.
Primarily though, they rely on the very same sense of unease we get from David as a misdirect. Throughout the first half of the film, situations arise where a steely calm comes over David, and we assume he’s about to snap into violence… until he just breaks into a goofy grin and assures everyone that he’s just kidding. It’s this film’s equivalent of the jump-scare cat, used very effectively more than once, broken up enough by actual violence to keep the audience on their toes. Mixing this in with various other engaging small moments (when David helps the young son of the family with his bullies, or listens to the father ramble about his job) keep us both entertained and invested in the characters.
All of this goes a long way towards establishing goodwill for the film’s awesomely absurd midpoint escalation, where David’s true backstory is revealed. It’s the sort of ambitious plot twist you usually only expect from much bigger movies, and one that could easily cause the whole movie to jump the shark. But between the generally fun tone and the vague, cliff-notes-y exposition, Wingard and Barrett are able to keep it from ruining everything, and indeed it just presents an opportunity for them to jack everything in the film up a notch. I can’t think of many films that can transition from an action-movie-style shootout to a slasher-film-esque finale in a haunted house maze without giving the audience whiplash, but The Guest does just that with ease. The thriller undertones throughout the first half (along with one great little action sequence at a bar) set up this subtle visual shift in the second half. The camera is more dynamic and genre-specific in these ending set pieces, but it still feels like a natural extension of the tonal beats that came before it.
More than anything, The Guest demonstrates how tone, visual style, subtext and humor can all work together to build a consistent story out of seemingly disparate parts. Wingard and Barrett successfully juggle numerous elements to create a great mashup genre experience that not only feels fluid, but also has some decent depth to it as well. It’s a major step forward for the duo (after their great-but-more-traditional You’re Next), and one that allows me to be excited for their remake of I Saw The Devil, rather than annoyed. If you aren’t paying attention to these guys yet, you should be: these are the sort of cult filmmakers that will really impact the future of cinema, and I think The Guest will be first in line to inspire a new generation of pulp filmmakers.