Movie Review: THE GUEST (tl;dr: See It)


I don’t usually review movies because most of what I see at this point is Corporate Hollywood Entertainment [1] (case in point: My kid is dragging me to THE MAZE RUNNER next week) and I’m not part of anyone’s marketing team. If there’s something worth saying, sure, but I only write “SEE IN THE THEATER/RENT IT AT HOME, MAYBE/ONLY IF YOU WANT TO PUNISH YOURSELF” for smaller movies folks might miss.

THE GUEST is in limited release in the U.S. as of today, and I’m going to tell you why you should see it.

First, here’s the trailer.

For those who didn’t watch, it’s a Deadly Friend story, in which average people find themselves the “beneficiary” of a powerful, dangerous new pal. Stephen Black’s Deadly Friend subplot was one of my favorite parts of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and it’s a subgenre I have wanted to dabble in for a long time.

The Peterson’s are a typical family, but they’re struggling. Mom is still stricken over the death of her eldest son in the military. Dad is drinking too much and stalled in his career. Their eldest daughter secretly seeing her drug-dealer boyfriend on the sly, and their remaining son is friendless and bullied at school. In walks David, who knew their son in the military and was with him when he died. He’s come to deliver a message of love, and to fulfill his promise to help his dead comrade’s family, if he can.

Unfortunately, David is a vicious psychopath and maybe somewhat more than human, too. What starts off with small kindnesses quickly escalates into terror and violence, but despite all that, there’s still an underlying attraction for all the characters. He’s a bit like a vampire; attractive and compelling, but once you’ve invited him in, you’re in the shit.

One thing the movie gets right is just how seductive David’s penchant for violence can be. He starts off by responding to attacks with counter-attacks, and there’s an undeniable appeal to that sort of strength, especially for the youngest boy. It feels like power, like agency, like something to be admired and emulated. As David gets closer to the family, and the things he does to “help” them become more awful and outrageous, the connection he’s established with them is still powerful. There’s a scene late in the movie–just a conversation between two characters–that would be the epitome of “What the fuck are you doing? Are you nuts?” in any other movie. It’s a metaphorical go-into-the-basement-along scene. And yet, because of the characters’ history, it’s the most believable, heart-breaking, and terrifying scene I’ve watched in months.

The movie’s being partly billed as part comedy[2] but it’s not, really. It has some subversive moments, and there’s a dark comic playfulness to it, especially at the end, but nothing to make you[3] laugh aloud. For me, the weird absurdity of it lent the violence extra weight and realism.

The trailer features a lot of action shots, but this is more psychological thriller than action movie. Dan Stevens, (who does a pretty good American accent) brings real charm and unpredictability to the part.

Anyway, it’s in limited release right now, but if you can see it, you should. If you can’t, see it when it goes into wide release in October. Everyone claims to want original, interesting movies, don’t they? Well, this is it.

[1] Hey, I wonder if I could make a useful acrony–oh, never mind.

[2] Or an comic thriller

[3] meaning “me”