As soon as dapper Dan Stevens introduces himself to a bereaved family, his magnetic handsome demands attention. He tells them he’s David, a friend and fellow solider of their son, passing on his final comforting words and he’s invited to stay with the family for a few days. He plays the essence of cool but director Adam Wingard, who has a background in horror, keeps the atmosphere delicately balanced between drama, thriller, comedy and something more disconcerting. The film’s strength is how well it straddles.
its tone. Firstly, it is genuinely funny. All the characters have well crafted quirks and react with a degree of amusing realism, such as the father’s answer to anything upsetting found in the offering of liquor and how David teaches the family’s son to confront his bullies.
The film’s comedy doesn’t clash with its tension, which is palpable as the audience is consumed by Stevens’s charisma, while remaining on edge. Rarely can thriller and comedy be seen to combine so effectively, without moving into the genre of parody. The Guest riffs off the demi-god good looks of Stevens making it no stretch to compare this performance to Ryan Gosling in Drive, albeit with the addition of tongue in cheek humour. It may not have anywhere near the style and iconic stature of that movie but it’s still a thrilling, hugely enjoyable ride.
There’s a moment at the climax when it really hits you in the face just how well crafted this movie really is, with a dreamy pop song playing over the drama. When you take a step back and think about it, the drama is ridiculous. When we learn more about David it does venture firmly into the realm of the silly, but it holds together far more effectively than it has any right to. While I do wish the film ended on that perfect note and didn’t go for one extra scene (which actually has the effect of reducing the film’s dramatic strength), that’s not enough to detract from an excellent genre bender, blending comedy into pulpy thriller twists and horror beats, but still remaining strong dramatically. Go figure.
The Guest is out on 5th September in the UK and 17th September in the US. Running time 99 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).
Review by David Rank