As a family of four mourn the loss of their soldier son, a clean-cut, Gosling-faced stranger arrives at their front door claiming to be his best friend and fellow soldier. He's there because he says it's his duty; that he promised his buddy he'd let his family back home know that his final words included messages of love to his mother, father, sister and little brother. It was the right thing to do, and not long after he arrives chock-full of charm, he's asked to stay a couple of days until he figures out where he's going next. Until he gets back on his feet. Or until everyone around him is dead.
Welcome to The Guest.
The logical progression of You're Next, The Guest finds director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett once again playing around with familiar genre conventions, except this time they move outside horror to include elements of action, sci-fi and coming of age with a hilariously badass '80s throwback that continually shifts gears and keeps you guessing to the very end. From its many nods to John Carpenter to its inclusion of ass-kicker (and fan-favorite) Lance Reddick, this is a movie whose love of other movies helped shape something both familiar and fresh, and ridiculously entertaining.
What's great about Wingard and Barrett (and by extension, the producing team of Keith Calder and Jessica Wu) is that a lot of what's defining them as "a team" are their unconventional casting choices. These clever ensembles of up-and-comers and scrappy veterans (Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Leland Orser, Sheila Kelley) who may not look A-list sexy on a Hollywood billboard, but they know how to deliver like gangbusters as a group.
They know the tone, they get the characters, and the writing gives a whole lot of something to everyone. It's just this perfect little cocktail that really works, and it feels genuine. It's got street cred. It also kinda redefines the Halloween movie, too. The October holiday colors the background of so many scenes, and it plays a significant part in the film's biggest moments. But it doesn't overwhelm the film; it complements it. And without being horrific about it, either.
Wingard and Barrett are clearly having a lot of fun right now, and making the kind of movies they want to make, mostly on their terms. Films like The Guest are enjoyed best with a big crowd (preferably at a rowdy midnight screening) or at home with people who adore the stuff that made '80s movies so memorable. The characters, the music cues, the fonts, the obnoxious villains, the heartthrob heroes and, of course, the nerds who saved the day.
The Guest is currently screening at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and its release is TBD. Check out more of our 2014 Sundance Film Festival coverage right here.
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