The Guest isn’t the movie you think it is.
Dressed in the hot pinks of a Nicolas Winding Refn picture and filled with big obvious nods to both John Carpenter’s suburban horror and his paranoid white-knuckle actioners – not to mention its delicious soundtrack of Eighties alt rock and electronic music – the biggest surprise comes not with the daft twist in the second half, but the near absence of irony.
Directed and written by You’re Next trope worshippers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, there’s a genuine love for the ex-rental VHS grab bag that they’re drawing from – bits of Halloween, a bit of The Hitcher, a bit of Rear Window and Shadow Of A Doubt, and a splash of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle.
Yet, somehow it dances between genre like raindrops, positing a delicious psychological thriller/walk’n’stalk horror/action hybrid. If it had a style, it wouldn’t be post-modern, it’d be ‘reverential’ – everything that appears in camera simply luxuriates, from that first lopsided, uber-kitschy scarecrow hanging incongruously against the stillness of the desert and that set of anonymous black boots pounding the at the broiling tarmac.
Armed with unlikely genre icon Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey‘s Cousin Matthew) as returning veteran David who pitches up in sun-bleached New Mexico (pleasantly reminiscent of the Fright Night remake’s vampire inflicted Nevada) on the eve of Halloween and inserts himself into the family life of a deceased comrade, pulling the door closed and turning the lock behind him.
Stevens is utterly inscrutable as the psychopath among us, his performance hinging on his restrained physicality. Everything is easy, too easy. And charming, as he nods and smiles his way into the life of grieving mother Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley), frustrated father Spencer (Leland Orser), bullied son Luke (Brendan Meyer) and alienated daughter Anna (Maika Monroe).
If Stevens is a surprise, Monroe is a revelation – her eyerolling teen isn’t as easily taken in by the cuckoo in the nest.
Both characters are masters of stillness, communicating just enough by doing so little – a sullen tightening of the jaw from Anna, a barely perceptible flicker from David, while others prove so easy to read, they stand apart. It’s natural then, they become nemeses – facing off in an incredible (literal) ghost train set-piece climax that’s pure Eighties slasher nuttiness – echoing the likes of Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine.
It doesn’t just aspire to be a cult classic, The Guest swaggers through your midnight movie marathon as if it already were one.