A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence.
From Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard -- the writer and director team behind 'You're Next' and segments of 'V/H/S', 'The ABCs of Death' and 'V/H/S/2' -- we have 'The Guest' starring Dan Stevens ('Downton Abbey') as David, a recently discharged U.S. soldier who travels to a small desert town to check up on a dead combat buddy's family. Invited to stay with the Petersons, the charming and mysterious David seeks to help the family overcome their grief in dark and dangerous ways, leaving the audience and the family's eldest daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) to wonder: Who is David? Why is he really here? Is he who he says he is?
Are we in mortal danger?
Given the premise, you can probably guess the answers to a few of these questions, but I would argue 'The Guest' only appears to be a simple thriller. This isn't one of those flicks that wins you over on premise alone because it has such a unique tone. In one sense, I would best describe it as the cinematic descendent of what happens when you mashup 'Halloween', 'Drive', 'Fatal Attraction', 'The Bourne Trilogy', 'Cape Fear', and what may or may not be a homage to the climax of Orsen Welles' 'Lady From Shanghai'.
That is to say, what in most filmmakers' hands would be straight ahead dark thriller is a production elevated by a unique tone that blends drama, action, thriller elements, and an unusual and often times extremely subtle/dry sense of comedy. There are unexpected action-sequence camera moves that would feel at home in a Spaghetti Western. A 1980s-influenced musical selection in a modern day setting. Near broad comedy from Leland Orser, who plays the struggling Peterson patriarch. Long takes of David staring menacingly at other characters and even nothing at all. Overall, there's a sense that this movie is -- all at once -- taking itself completely seriously and not seriously at all.
It's an unsettling tone because, while the plot itself is conventional (not trying to knock it, mind you), you're always left second-guessing where you are and what's happening next because the journey itself is unexpected.
To be honest, I'm still not exactly sure how much of the film works for me -- that is to say, how much of the filmmakers' intent is clearly conveyed and achieved -- I kept turning to my wife and saying, "I don't know if I like this movie, but I kinda love it." Perhaps I was expecting just-a-thriller, or perhaps their comedic choices are simply too subtle for my personal tastes. Nor am I certain whether or not 'The Guest' will grown on me in repeat viewings, which is also kinda great. Sometimes film is about behind uncertain, being off the proverbial reservation.
Then again, I wonder if 'The Guest' could be improved with a little more character clarity on David and the Peterson in the film's first act. And I wonder if David's capabilities are undercut in the film's last half for reasons I won't spoil here.
Regardless, even if I'm not certain of what it's always trying to do, 'The Guest' is definitely a movie cinema enthusiasts should check out at least once (assuming you're not put off by violent rated R movies), particularly if you enjoy 'Drive' or '80s-influenced horror movies.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
'The Guest' slips onto Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment as part of a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack that houses one BD50 and one DVD-9. Trailers on both discs includes 'Nightcrawler', 'A Walk Among the Tombstones', 'Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power', 'Kill the Messenger', and 'A Few Best Men'. The Digital HD instructions note it works with UltraViolet or iTunes, but do not specify an expiration date.
'The Guest' debuts on Blu-ray with an error-free and excellent MPEG 4 AVC encode framed in the film's original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio.
Much like the film's main character, 'The Guest' video presentation has two sides, one light and one dark. In the bright New Mexico exteriors, the film is gorgeous, offering up cloudy blue-sky vistas, natural skin tones, and endless resolution. And yet, it's in the darkness where 'The Guest' truly excels. Every bar or party interior, and particularly the Halloween-set climax, is dripping with inky blacks and exotic, moody colors, with characters bathed in increasingly contrasty tones.
I don't know what this film's budget was exactly, but this excellent video presentation rivals much pricier studio thrillers.
'The Guest' shoots and stabs its way onto Blu-ray with a dynamic and music-heavy 5.1 English DTS-HD MA surround sound mix.
Many lower budget features are understandably hamstrung by a limited surround sound mix. In that sense, 'The Guest' delivers an engrossing and dynamic mix that highlights its synthesizer-heavy soundtrack and incredibly clear dialog. I don't know how much "ADR" was done, specifically, but it seems as though we're mainly dealing with production audio recorded in less than ideal environments. Yet, there are no signs of unwanted noise.
On the other hand, in a movie that features action sequences, this sound mix is a little subdued. Sound effects panning is efficient, but never aggressively tests one's surround setup or creating an elevated sense of immersion.
That's okay, by they way. The filmmakers clearly had a sense of what they wanted and this lossless audio mix delivers that in spades. It's just not as articulate as other movies in this genres.
'The Guest' arrives on Blu-ray and DVD with less than two hours of bonus materials (including the Feature Commentary), which will be a bit of a bummer for fans, and there are no HD Exclusives. Here's what's available.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 15mins). Play All with and without Commentary by director Adam Winged and writer Simon Barrett. I enjoyed listening to the commentary on these to hear about what was cut and why. It gives a great sense of the artists' intensions and the harsh reality of translating words on a page to visual moving images.
Deleted Original Opening
Extended Intro to the Peterson Family
Anna Finds David's Gun
Anna Meets David with Final Cut for Comparison
David Confronts Anna
Q&A with Dan Stevens (HD, 2:32). An extremely brief interview with the lead actor.
Feature Commentary with director Adam Winged and writer Simon Barrett. The filmmaking team sits down for what they described as a winged conversation. It does feel a little loose and unorganized, but much like the Deleted Scenes commentaries, this sheds a light on the filmmakers' intentions. If you're on the fence about what this film is doing (or why), I found it helpful to unlocking the piece.
'The Guest', starring Dan Stevens, is a violent R-rated thriller with a unique tonal quality elevated by a unusual and subtle sense of comedy. As I said above, I don't know how much I like it (or how much it's achieving what it wants), but I kinda love it. Time will tell if it grows on me, or deflates, but I definitely recommend checking it out if you liked 'Drive' or are a fan '80s horror movies (though it's not exactly that either). It's definitely a unique experience and one that will probably be specific to each viewer.
As a Blu-ray, while 'The Guest' fails on the special features front, it offers excellent video and audio along with a DVD and Digital HD copy. Recommended.