Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have been working together for a couple years now and they’ve establish a tone for their films, that of a mid-eighties Cannon movie. Their films are party movies that seem to be reaction to the box office trends of three decades past, and considering what mostly makes up the cineplexes these days, their films are a welcome relief as they tend to be exciting and smartly paced. The Guest is their latest offering and it stars Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as a former soldier who is not what he appears to be, and my review of the film on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Stevens stars as David, who shows up at the home of the Petersons, who have been grieving the recent loss of their son to military combat. David shows up to tell the family that their son loved them, and is invited to stay by the mother Laura (Shelia Kelley). Her husband Spencer (Leland Orser) initially balks at this decision, but comes to like David as well, and quickly his son Luke (Brendan Meyer) takes a shine to David when he acts as Luke’s protector from some bullies. But Luke’s sister Anna (Maika Monroe) finds David a little off, even if she’s physically attracted to him.
David goes to a party with Anna, where he meets some of her friends, including Craig (Joel David Moore), who says he can hook David up with a guy who sells guns. Things start to go bad from there as people start mysteriously dying, while Anna’s pot dealing boyfriend Zeke (Chase Williamson) is set up as a patsy. It turns out that David was part of a secret government project and so Major Carver (Lance Reddick) comes with a crew of mercenaries to assassinate David.
One of the films most mentioned when the film was released is The Terminator, and while The Guest may not be up to that level of low budget perfection, it’s fair to say that the film gives Stevens the same sort of star-making turn that Cameron’s film gave Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stevens, who’s transformed his body into top physical shape, is magnetic and just off enough to be both compelling and scary. The film takes its time setting up the characters, and though a familiarity with genre tips off who will be the major players pretty quickly, it’s hard to get a read on David and what his end game might be. That’s smart because even though he’s tipped to be a villain simply by his outsider status, the way he ingratiates himself into the family makes him empathetic even when he’s violent.
He leads a strong cast that’s made up of a mix of fresh and familiar faces. Maika Monroe gets to play the Sarah Connor role, and though she’s had some small roles in the past, she’s definitely a talent and someone to keep an eye on. Reddick anchors the role of the government figure that’s both paternal and untrustworthy, something he did brilliantly in The Wire, and here it’s nice to see him get to play in action sequences. The supporting cast, including people like Moore and A.J. Bowen also give this the feel of those early Cameron and John Carpenter where there’s a deep bench of character actors.
Some of the best things about the movies are also what may work against it for aficionados, though. The film opens with the title in a Carpenter-esque font, which aligns the film with the fact that it is an homage, and though it never feels like Wingard and Barrett are straight ripping off their heroes, it also opens up direct comparisons that are hard to live up to. The duo make movie-movies, and as the film’s denouement suggests, they’re not above winking at the audience. It’s about having fun and both this and You’re Next are the sort of films that are best enjoyed with a large (and possibly a little rowdy) audience.
The Blu-ray comes with a DVD and digital copy, and the film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. Shot digitally, the transfer is excellent and looks directly ported from the source. Extras include a commentary by Wigard and Barrett, and these are guys who were raised on commentary tracks and you can tell they like doing them, while they also are not afraid to talk about their influences, and what they would have done with the film had they had more money. They also provide commentary for eight deleted/alternate scenes (15 min.) that are negligible, and there’s also a quick Q&A with Dan Stevens (3 min.) where he talks about being a fan of the filmmakers.