The director of last year’s slasher You’re Next brings us a downplayed thriller with an ambiguous tone. It is like Drive but less stylish and less convincing.
David, an ex-soldier, returns from the war only to visit the grieving family who lost a son who had been in his unit. But despite his seemingly good and quiet nature and intention to help each member of the family out, he isn’t quite what he seems.
You probably know that I liked Drive, I liked Drive a lot, but to compare The Guest to it would be unfair. What can be comparable between the two is a very similar narrative structure and pacing, but that’s where similarities tend to end.
Dan Stevens plays the humble David, and plays enigmatic very well; he could be the one major selling point of this film. The script is very simple and straightforward, giving a reasonably realistic take on proceedings without mumbling everything.
The film rotates around David but also his growing relationship with the family’s youngest members, Anna and Luke. Both child actors are very good despite playing very stereotyped characters.
The pacing is slow, perhaps a little too slow. While ambiguity is great in small movies like this, I felt a little restless midway through (though please take into account I was watching this quite early in the morning, and this is more like an evening film) and you can assume from my earlier references to Drive, The Guest does explode towards the end. The action sequences, from very small brawls and fist fights to full shootouts are very engaging and well done.
But the change from moody insecurity to full-on action feels clunky. The action is rewarding after such a protracted silence but for whatever reason I couldn’t help but find it funny, surreal even. I preferred the cool, calculated fight sequences within the second act (a fight in a bar being particularly impressionable)
Possibly the worst part of this film though is the children’s parents, surely awarded “Most idiotic Parenting Award for 2014”. While the premise could be acceptable and quite unique, here it suffers a terrible blow to integrity early on. The father (Leland Orser, who plays that shaky, mentally traumatized victim character in Alien: Resurrection, Se7en, and various TV series. You will recognise him) immediately calls David out as a potential risk to the family, as any sensible person would – though not his wife apparently – yet after a couple of beers together one time he actually sides with David against his own daughter’s accusations! Wait, what?
It is a decent film to wile away ninety minutes. The final act is exciting and there is a great sense of plight around the two kids, and David is both charming and threatening in the same breath.