A Lingering Lodger: Wingard’s “The Guest” Is Good Throwback Mash-Up Fun

Review, “The Guest” – **** stars (out of ****)

Released September 17, 2014
Directed and Edited by Adam Wingard
Written by Simon Barrett
Cinematography by Robby Baumgartner
Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Lance Reddick, Sheila Kelly, Brendan Meyer, Leland Orser
Running Time: 100 minutes
Budget: $5 million
Worldwide Box Office: $2.4 million

You know, awesome movies don’t have to be perfect. “The Guest” is many, many things – a pitch-black comedy, a 1978 John Carpenter horror movie, a 1988 Steven Seagal action movie, a James Cameron indie sci-fi movie from 1984, a 1992 Roland Emmerich-directed/Carolco-produced action-comedy, a demented smaller-scale “Drive” (while we’re here — it’s also an improvement on “Drive”). Maybe it’s not perfect. But it IS great. Those two attributes don’t have to coincide in a movie, necessarily. But if you forgive it those minor trespasses, it really is a cool, taut slice of throwback fun. Shot for a mere $2.5 million (or about 3.33% of the MARKETING BUDGET of a standard Hollywood flick), the movie wears its low-budget reality like a badge of honor, embracing a sleek, ’80s-ified aesthetic and peppering everything with a cool Halloween tinge.

Right now, you’re probably asking yourself, “What the fuck is ‘The Guest?’” And that’s a valid question, considering it was only given a token roll-out release here and abroad, and was shamelessly under-promoted, but you know who really appreciated it? Movie critics. It’s currently holding at a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was a New York Times Critics’ Pick, and was lauded by folks like Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and Richard Roeper. AND THEY’RE ALL RIGHT. It’s an insanely fun action-thriller-comedy (with just a sprinkling of some good horror movie elements), the best kind of genre movie. Does it say something profound about the human experience, like most supposed “great movies” have to? No. And that matters not one iota. Turns out it was able to nab a spot on Netflix streaming, so… you have no excuse not to scope it immediately. IMMEDIATELY I SAY. It boasts one of the sweetest trailers in recent memory, so that should sway you. Well, the trailer hit all the right buttons for me, at least. Did I mentioned its killer ′80s-tinged electro soundtrack? Here’s hoping it gains some steam and maybe even a second life in its post-theatrical release.

The plot: a recently discharged soldier arrives at the doorstep of a family in New Mexico. He served with their eldest son, who died in the line of duty. He endears himself to them, and stays on for a few days, trying to help each family member sort out their lives. But David’s hiding something. Well, a couple of somethings. That’s as much as I’d like to divulge, I think, before you see the flick for yourself. Which, again, you should all do. Awesome, awesome trailer, by the way.

The whole cast is thoroughly on-point. Dan Stevens, playing titular lodger David Collins, busts out an American accent so flawless I would never have guessed that he’s a Brit most popular for playing somebody on the BBC’s “Downton Abbey.” His mysterious stranger with on-point music cues shtick never stagnates, instead developing into something way more fun than I had expected. The family he shacks up with play their roles to perfection, from the skeptical-but-mildly-infatuated 20 year-old daughter Anna Peterson (Maika Monroe) to the spineless dad Spencer Peterson (Leland Orser, who’s kind of made a career of playing weak idiots). The mom (Sheila Kelly) and brother (Brendan Meyer, who looks like he should be Chloe Grace Moretz’s older brother in real life but, somehow, incredibly, is not) are decidedly more rote as characters — until a late-second-act reveal for the brother. Regardless, they’re effective and streamlined, which is what they need to be. Lance Reddick, who had an action-packed year between bad-ass character turns in this and “John Wicke,” plays it very cool as a special forces head honcho who… let’s just say is really put through his paces in the third act.

Point being – see “The Guest.” Great, thanks.

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