The Guest Review, Plus Highlights from the Q&A with Dan Stevens, Adam Wingard, and Simon Barrett
I would say that if you saw You're Next, you know what you're getting into, but that's not really true. Like You're Next, The Guest is a funny movie. Neither film had many "jokes," but both basked in the absurdity of their premises to the point that you'd be having an existential crisis if everything wasn't so damn funny. But while You're Next was clearly a send-up of slasher movies, The Guest is a funny little mixture of many different genres. It's a silly, trigger-happy actioner in the style of Bourne, Jack Reacher, and so many others, it's a sexually violent domestic drama like Park Chan-wook's Stoker, it's a showcase for an antisocial antihero like Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, it's a serial killer cat-and-mouse game, and it's a (spoiler!) conspiracy theorist sci-fi parable about the evils of the American military. Simply put, it has something for everyone.
[Credit: Gabriella Hodge]
It's anchored by a completely charismatic breakout performance from Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens. Although all of the acting is perfectly adequate, Stevens steals the show (although a case could be made for shared credit for Brendan Meyer, who is funny beyond his years). His character, David Collins, was described by audience members at different points of the Q and A as "Jason Bourne meets Jason Voorhees" and "Mary Poppins with PTSD," much to the delight of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. Both of these descriptions, and many more potential comparisons, are correct, because we're consistently kept guessing about David's motivations. He's clearly sinister, and has nefarious intentions, but he also seems to form genuine relationships with the central family. This could bring up philosophical questions about humanity, androids, brainwashing, a myriad of things, but the filmmakers decline to engage with them. It's interesting to think of (spoiler!) an android forming attachments to humans that he will be forced to kill if they get too close to the truth, not to mention the "super-soldier" plot potentially serving as an indictment of the military, but for better and for worse The Guest is too busy having fun to explore these questions in too much depth.
That being said, the central character's motivations are fairly complex for a horror/action movie. At the Q and A, Stevens claimed that David's apparent attachment to Luke was genuine, and that his "motivations for seeing the family were real." Wingard insisted that David has "very good intentions" and "just wants to help," and was only being half-sarcastic. He claimed that David wanted the children to kill him in the end, and purposefully gave them the tools for his own undoing. (I would say they were successful in establishing that dynamic; David giving Luke a thumbs-up of approval for killing him might have been the highlight of the whole movie.) Barrett agreed with both of them: "He does help, in a very non-parent-centric way. It depends on how you look at the family dynamic, at the end the brother and sister are way closer," which got a big laugh out of those who had seen the ending.
A few more highlights from the Q & A with the star, director, and writer of The Guest:
[Credit: Gabriella Hodge]
Adam Wingard on the light tone of the film, and why The Dark Knight didn't need Batman: "We wanted to throw the whole notion of villain or hero out the window and have the audience only pay attention to whether they're entertained or not... I re-watched The Dark Knight recently, and I just realized how bored I was whenever the Joker wasn't onscreen... Like who cares who's supposed to be the most altruistic one in this scenario or not, you know? If that movie just added more scenes of the Joker and maybe Batman shows up at the end, I would have been perfectly satisfied with that."
Simon Barrett responded, "Well, in a film you're going to like the character that's providing you the most entertainment, which is obviously Dan, but in real life if he came to your house and killed your family, you'd be, you know, bummed out."
[Credit: Gabriella Hodge]
When asked if he considered the character to be a "departure" from his previous work, Stevens facetiously said: "At first I was drawn to the similarities: Young man shows up at a house, makes friends with the family... Simon told me it would be in period costume... He lied."
He also cited The Bride from Kill Bill as an inspiration for his character, and claimed that he saw the movie three times on the day it came out in theaters.
Simon Barrett on his work ethic: "I am generally opposed to work that I don't absolutely have to do."
On the film's relationship to art: "It's the mattress of entertainment on the box-spring of drama."
On the film's relationship to Terminator: "It's the movie where Terminator teaches the kid to kill people."
He also discussed the ways in which the scene at the bar was a form of wish fulfillment based on his own childhood experiences, as it "added almost nothing to the plot of the movie." But, he said, with just "a few tweaks," he was able to justify its existence by making it "a turning point in the relationship between David and Luke."