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Over the last few years I’ve lost a lot of faith in the thriller genre. Nothing has really popped for me; the saturation of conventions ultimately boring me to the point where I want the bad guy to win each time and rarely is that the case. Which is precisely why I was so delighted with The Guest. Bringing elements of post-modernism and retro-noire Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (You’re Next) stepped up their game by offering something to a wider audience. And what a lot they have to offer.

The Guest is self-aware in an almost Scream-like manner and because of this you’ll often find yourself nodding along with the directors at what is happening to the characters on screen way before it has actually happened. Not to say that the movie is very obvious by any means. There are some fun twists and turns that fit perfectly with its tone and the great performances from the cast, in particular the batshit crazy Dan Stevens (who doesn’t sound anything like his Downton Abby character Matthew Crawley here), cement it as one of my favourite thrillers to date (I’ve actually seen it four times now).

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The story is a very simple one that sees Stevens in the role of David, an ex-marine who returns from the Middle East to deliver a message from a friend who was killed in action to his family- a simple message: that he loved his family, the perfect opening to enter the lives of unaware strangers. In fact at one point David actually uses the words ‘I love you’ while giving the message to a family member which has the red alert sirens hitting DEFCON 5.

When David knocks on the door of the Petersons they are still in a state of mourning and thus a reminder of their son is very welcome, though it takes some a bit longer to feel this way. Bereaved mother Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley) jumps at the opportunity to have David spend some time with them though, filling the gap her son’s death has obviously left. In fact she goes so far as to put him in the dead son’s room, something that will probably elicit an ‘ohhhh’ from those watching. Father and husband Spencer (Leland Orser) is not so comfortable at first (in fact he has a fight with his wife about it) but after a night boozing it with David enjoys the male camaraderie and takes to him. After all he’s only there to help…

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This causes friction with emo-goth daughter Anna (brilliantly played by Maika Monroe who at one stage has knee high socks and a waitresses uniform on… SWOON) who is quite taken aback at how quickly her parents welcome him. That is until a shower scene that has David de-robe (them abs!). David also steps into the role of big brother for young teen Luke (Brendan Meyer), a kid who is on the receiving end of some pretty bad bullying at school. Let’s put it this way: David’s re-education of said bullies will have you fist-pumping the air much like he does their faces. David’s character fills these multiple roles with a charming and almost old-fashioned sensitivity but we can see through his blank stares, over-the-top helpfulness and lack of emotion that there is something not quite right with him. When sh*t finally hits the fan, you not only see it coming a mile away, you are begging for it. And it is fun, oh so much fun.

Directors Wingard and Barret use some great framing to build tension throughout the movie, starting with the very first scene of David running along a dirt track with a rather foreboding scarecrow in the distance. These shots certainly engross you and help draw you into the story – creating that fourth wall – but the film is very much a post-modern parody of the thriller genre – you can see what is happening and this really adds to the fun shared between the creators and audience.

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That is also evident with the characters and their predictability. As already mentioned Anna is totally against this new guest hanging about until he’s suddenly standing in front of her with his chiselled abs and then suddenly boom, all is good with the hot marine. The motivations of many characters are pretty straight forward but this adds to its campness and innocence and makes you want to shout out warnings at what they are getting themselves into. Just to heighten this The Guest is set just before Halloween so there is a constant sinister edge to even the most mundane of scenes (check the image above and the little scarecrow on the shelf next to the dead marine’s shrine). the-guest-halloween-influencesAnother example has the family argue while they are all hollowing out pumpkins – so many knives and unspoken promises one can’t help but laugh as the directors play with ‘what ifs’ through the characters gazes.

Of course things do go mental but I don’t want to venture into that territory and spoil it for you as the expectation of David’s potential brutality is very appealing and satisfying when it’s finally realized. You do get some character motivation from him, through some external agents (literally), which is more for fun’s sake than actual exposition, but that is the point of the movie: pure, unadulterated fun.

The Guest‘s soundtrack (which is a must-buy in the same way that the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack is) brings an 80’s thriller retro vibe that will have you grooving as people are dismembered, shot and blown up; the contrast working far better than some epic Hans Zimmer-like score. In fact the score is so prolific it may as well be a sentient force in itself. Don’t expect a commentary on war or on how society treats its soldiers when they come home though, we’ll leave that for American Sniper. Instead Wingard and Barret have created a movie that will appeal to those who enjoy a fun slasher flick with shocking violence and to those who enjoy movies that are self-aware and knowingly nod to the genre they are basking in.

Last Updated: June 4, 2015

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Nick Reay

I have been an avid fan of movies ever since I discovered Santa Clause wasn't real, a day marked in my memory by my first viewing of It's a Wonderful Life, which wasn't so wonderful that day. Since then I've watched thousands of movies and even fooled my parents into putting me through uni to get a degree in the subject. I first started writing as a journalist for The South African Newspaper before moving onto communications for an NGO trying to save the planet. Unfortunately my recommendations to the CEO that we should all don rings imbued with the powers of earth, fire, wind, water and HEART went unheard. Now I pretend the end isn't nigh by hiding in movies.

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