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The Guest

Dan Stevens in the Guest

 

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Just what state is the thriller genre in when such a derivative film like The Guest is considered exceptional? Because that seems to be the consensus, and it simply isn’t deserved.

From the trailer it appeared to be a modern twist on Shadow Of A Doubt or a nasty cousin of Drive, either of which would have been more interesting. Certainly it shares the aesthetic of the latter, but none of the consistency, and it has little of the powerful suspense found in Hitchcock’s classic. Rather it wants to be thought of alongside the b-movie inspired oeuvre of John Carpenter. This it could easily have done if it hadn’t been so bloody dishonest and that’s what really annoyed me.

The first half of the film is brilliant. Dan Stevens is superb as David, charming and charismatic one minute, steel-eyed menace the next. He easily ingratiates himself into the grieving family of his old army buddy, although the teenage daughter (Maika Monroe) is suspicious and soon starts digging into David’s past. Her brother, played by Brendan Meyer, however latches onto the stranger, especially when David deals with bullies in spectacular crowd-pleasing fashion; a bar brawl channels the brutal violence of movies like The Hitcher.

So far all good, but once the military get wind of David the narrative turns into a boring and predictable cul-de-sac of nonsense action, fun enough if all you wanted was a brain-dead slasher. Meanwhile the weight shifts to the teenagers and they, like the rest of the supporting cast, are uniformly weak and unable to push it forward. Meanwhile Stevens is lumbered with being the Bogeyman instead of the substantial threat he had been.

A weak cast in general is not to blame though, especially when experienced character actors like Leland Orser and Lance Reddick are in the mix. Nor is director Adam Wingard at fault, who wrings all the potential out of the thing and makes it more than watchable. Rather all the problems are squarely on the shoulders of Simon Barrett’s script which was one decent character in a half-arsed plot he didn’t know how to finish. It’s such a shame because David is a fantastic bastard and gloriously entertaining; his wrapping up of loose ends is particularly funny, in a grimly ironic sort of way when one leads to many others. He’s like Jason Bourne off his meds and both Stevens’ and his role deserved a better film.

It is entertaining and with low expectations you’ll likely enjoy it a heck of a lot. I basically did, it’s just that the first half promised so much more.

Last year this film and Two Faces Of January both garnered superb reviews and both feel short. Blue Ruin and especially the incredible Cold In July were both far better. Look those up long before this one.

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