×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘The Guest’

After 'You're Next,' Adam Wingard wreaks havoc on another nuclear family in this giddily violent treat for genre fans.

With:

Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick, Tabatha Shaun, Chase Williamson, Joel David Moore, Steven John Brown, Brenden Wedner, Alex Knight, Ethan Embry, Nancy Jeris.

After terrorizing a family reunion in “You’re Next,” director Adam Wingard and scenarist Simon Barrett let a different brand of uninvited company wreak havoc with another nuclear clan in “The Guest.” Indeed, an entire fictive New Mexico town here won’t soon recover from the mayhem inflicted by a classic mysterious-stranger-with-hidden-agenda played by Dan Stevens. A willfully over-the-top, giddily violent exercise landing between slasher horror and ’70s crazy-Vietnam-vet-returns action-thrillers, the pic is a real kick for genre fans, even if its last lap can’t quite cap the preceding outrages. Prospects are good for niche theatrical, better for download sales.

There’s a general atmosphere of tension and unhappiness in the Peterson household, no doubt exacerbated by the recent death of the family’s eldest son Caleb in Iraq. Mom (Sheila Kelley) is a grieving basketcase; Dad (Leland Orser) drinks to cope with job stress; withdrawn teen Luke (Brendan Meyer) is bullied by jocks at school; his older sis, Anna (Maika Monroe), is fed up with them all. Turning up one day out of the blue is David (Stevens), who introduces himself as Caleb’s fellow soldier and best friend, tasked with delivering his parting words to each family member.

David makes a deferential aw-shucks impression at first, though no one but Mom is especially pleased by his arrival. Nevertheless, he manages to ingratiate himself as he prolongs his stay, sussing out individual vulnerabilities and sometimes playing a very rough kind of guardian angel. (Luke’s tormentors get their arses thoroughly whupped in one startling setpiece.)

Yet he also seems a bit sinister, especially from the viewer’s p.o.v. When suspicious Anna calls the Army to verify his claimed identity, she’s informed that soldier actually died under unnatural circumstances just two weeks earlier. She also unknowingly triggers a major covert military intervention led by special-forces officer Carver (Lance Reddick). Unfortunately, that will prove far too little, too late to stop “David” from exploding like a nail bomb all over this sleepy burg.

Played in a key of macabre black comedy that’s deadpan save whenever all hell breaks loose, “The Guest” is such nasty fun you might not realize until afterward that David’s real reasons for arriving are never quite clarified. You may notice immediately, however, that the climax (set in an elaborate haunted house designed for a school Halloween dance) feels a bit ordinary and overly self-conscious as a horror homage, given the punchier material that precedes it. And the fadeout “gotcha!” is neither very surprising nor satisfying.

That slight letdown aside, “The Guest” is blood-soaked action trash of a high grade, on a low budget that it embraces — various stylistic choices (notably a soundtrack full of original and vintage synthesizer cheese) very much underlines the pic’s 1970s grindhouse and ’80s direct-to-VHS lineage.

“Downton Abbey’s” Stevens knocks a showy, 100% ‘Murrican role out of the park. There’s never any doubt that his David is one bat-crazy lethal weapon, as well as one sexy MF. (He convincingly shuts down Anna’s hostility, albeit briefly, by simply stepping half-naked from the shower.) Other performances as familiar character types are also fine-tuned; the production package is Wingard’s slickest yet.

Sundance Film Review: 'The Guest'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 18, 2014. Running time: 99 MIN.

Production:

A Snoot Films production in association with Han Way Films. Produced by Keith Calder, Jessica Calder. Co-producers, Bruce Wayne Gillies, Chris Harding. Executive producers, Thorsten Schumacher.

Crew:

Directed, edited by Adam Wingard. Screenplay, Simon Barrett. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Robby Baumgartner; music, Stephen Moore; music supervisor, Jonathan McHugh; production designer, Thomas S. Hammock; costume designer, Kathleen Detoro; set decorator, Susan Magestro; stunt coordinator, Clayton Barber; sound, Zac Sneesby; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Andy Hay; sound designer, Jeffrey A. Pitts; assistant director, Michael L. Henderson.

With:

Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick, Tabatha Shaun, Chase Williamson, Joel David Moore, Steven John Brown, Brenden Wedner, Alex Knight, Ethan Embry, Nancy Jeris.

More Film

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in a Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Tessa Thompson Nnamdi Asomugha

    Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha to Star in 'Slyvie'

    Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha are set to star in the feature film “Slyvie.” Eugene Ashe has written the screenplay and will direct with production currently underway. More Reviews Album Review: Lil Pump's 'Harverd Dropout' Berlin Film Review: 'Stitches' The film is described as a love story set in the cool jazz era of New York [...]

  • Night Fury dragon Toothless and Hiccup

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Soaring to $50 Million-Plus Launch

    “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is soaring toward a $53 million launch weekend at 4,259 North American locations, early estimates showed on Friday. That estimate is well above Universal’s forecast in the $40 million range at 4,259 sites — and ahead of its predecessors, 2010’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” which made [...]

  • Actors With Disabilities Deserve a Hollywood

    Dreaming of a Hollywood Ending for Actors With Disabilities (Guest Column)

    Picture a world in which an actor with a disability wins an Academy Award. Sadly, that storyline remains no more than a Hollywood fantasy. In recent years, the #OscarsSoWhite trending hashtag campaign has shed light on the lack of diversity in the movie industry. Yet ahead of this year’s Oscars on Feb. 24, society’s definition [...]

  • Clark Gable III

    Clark Gable's Grandson, Who Hosted 'Cheaters,' Found Dead at 30

    Clark Gable’s grandson, Clark Gable III, died on Friday morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Variety confirmed with the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office. He was 30. “It’s is with an extremely heavy heart we say goodbye to my beautiful son Clark,” his mother wrote on Instagram. “He passed this morning. I will always [...]

  • You Were Never Really Here If

    Film Independent's Spirit Awards Fly the Flag for Indie Film

    As the 2018 awards season marches slowly into its final days, only a handful of honors remain undistributed after some of the most volatile and contentious campaigns in years. Front-runners have come and gone in one major category after the next, as each guild and critics group announced different winners than its predecessors, demolishing expectations [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    John Krasinski to Direct 'A Quiet Place' Sequel, Emily Blunt and Co-Stars in Talks to Return

    UPDATED: John Krasinski is returning to direct the untitled sequel to Paramount’s horror hit “A Quiet Place.” Stars Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds are in talks to reprise their characters. More Reviews Album Review: Lil Pump's 'Harverd Dropout' Berlin Film Review: 'Stitches' Krasinski revealed the news Friday via an Instagram post that said [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content