With its purple-coloured title card and font seeming to invoke the spirit of The Exorcist, director Adam Wingard’s latest psycho-thriller, The Guest, is like William Friedkin’s masterpiece in that it is also a film about a demonic presence in the home. The monstrous force here, however, comes not in the shape of an ancient deity occupying a young girl, but a polite, handsome but very intimidating ex-soldier.
David (Stevens) returns from fighting overseas with the aim of tracking down his deceased best friend’s family and offering a few comforting words about their boy’s final moments. He immediately ingratiates himself into the household: the grieving mother needs a son substitute; the younger brother needs a protector from school bullies; the father needs a drinking buddy, and the daughter is captivated by the sheer mystery of the hunky stranger.
But much as in Hitchock's Shadow of a Doubt and the more recent Stoker, Anna (Monroe) sees through the southern gent persona and grows increasingly suspicious of the dude, even if she thinks he’s hotter than the sun.
Without an original bone its body, The Guest lifts from many movies, but does so with tongue-in-cheek brio. For example, that David is a psychotic fiend is less a twist in the tale and more an inside joke shared between director and his audience. This set-up, therefore, allows for plenty of visual humour and for Stevens to turn in a performance relying as much on physicality as dialogue. David isn’t really much of a talker, anyway. The vibe is a bit like First Blood meets Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.
Wingard’s best film to date remains A Horrible Way to Die, but with You’re Next and The Guest, he has shown he can deliver the goods to a mainstream audience. He and screenwriter Simon Barrett are on the verge of hitting the big time.