Monday, 12 January 2015

The Guest (2014)

Jesus, new surprise favourite right here.

If I'd known who Adam Wingard was before today I'd have seen this a lot sooner. Hot on the heels of You're Next, and V/H/S and V/H/S 2 Wingard produces this and adds to the list of fantastic horror-comedy films I never realised he was in charge of. It's the sort of black comedy that you'll probably only appreciate if you've watched a lot of horror movies, producing laughter at times that'll makes family members worry about you.

The Guest is a darkly violent thriller in which a soldier, just discharged from the US army, meets the family of a fellow soldier whose dying wish was that his family was taken care of. David Collins arrives in small town New Mexico and is exceedingly polite, warm and helpful. Things take a dramatic turn as David's particular brand of "help" escalate everything around the family to dreadful ends.

Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey fame, brings a psychotic energy to the main character. He's very polite, charming and a smooth talker, but at the drop of a hat is prone to extreme threats and even more extreme violence. In a bizarre sort of way, David isn't a bad guy despite all the atrocities he commits. He genuinely thinks he's helping because of everything he has been through. An unerring sense of loyalty to his dead friend and the family he swore to protect just makes the exciting conclusion of The Guest an even more messed up finale.

This is a brutal film. Like You're Next, there is a lot of on-screen, bloody violence. Wingard takes a different approach to combat than some of the films that obviously influenced the action scenes in other ways. It manages to achieve the same raw and harsh feel that the Bourne films have, but does so in the opposite way. Where Bourne has a shaky camera jumping all over in a frenetic craze, The Guest locks off with steady shots so you see every punch, stab and shot in visceral detail.

The Guest draws inspiration from a lot of places, action films like Bourne actually being one of the smallest contributors. There are countless pastiches and allusions to other horrors movies and directors throughout, all done fleetingly enough to not overstay their welcome or be too obvious about it. Importantly, none of these are jokes. The Guest plays it straight throughout.

 The real influences are from films like the director's previous works and some other really style-heavy films. Drive and Only God Forgives are two that the film is very reminiscent of, in soundtrack and visuals respectively. The Guest features this eerie synth-heavy soundtrack from start to finish that hits the beats perfectly. Oddly enough, most of it is played in the film itself, from the car stereo or the DJ decks or the soundtrack to a party. Seriously, the soundtrack and sound design elevate this from "pretty good" to "holy shit", and I'm not even that into synthy stuff. It takes the creepiness that Dan Stevens seems so natural at and builds a wonderful sense of dread.

Visually, the film riffs on similar levels to the soundtrack. It's so incredibly eighties in so many ways. Lots of flashing visuals, neon and bright lights punctuate the film's major setting in the desert via parties and other scenes to create this cocaine-haze of an atmosphere culminating in the mind bogglingly hectic, bright, visually delightful finale.

The Guest is a great thriller. With creepiness and dread seeping out of every pore for the first half, the payoff in the last act as everything comes to a head is totally worth it. With it's brooding synthy score and hallucinogenic visuals it's a feast for the sense. And with the correct, specifically fucked up sense of humour it'll have you laughing from start to finish.

What. The. Fuck.

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