The opening title card for The Guest flashes up in purple Exorcist font, a loud sound cue chiming ominously with it. David (Dan Stevens), a former soldier, shows up at the Peterson household claiming to have been friends with their recently deceased son Caleb. Stevens exudes old school sensibilities and charm, affecting a slight southern accent to go along with it.
For a film so soaked in the 1980s an easy comparison is Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 masterpiece Drive. Stevens is hardly as silent as Ryan Gosling but he channels the actor anyway, oozing magnetic cool laced with menace. One moment he’s helping Mrs. Peterson out (picking up Luke from school) and the next he’s severely debilitating a group of local jock bullies in a bar. He drinks Fireballs (liquor with a heavy dose of Tabasco) and licks his lips. He carves pumpkins with a ballistic knife. Director Adam Wingard fills the film with these off-beat moments of dark humor, moments that readily evoke his previous film You’re Next. As the body count begins piling up it becomes obvious that David clearly is not who he seems, and Anna Peterson begins investigating.
Maika Monroe stands shoulder to shoulder with the magnetic Stevens, fleshing out the role of Anna while staying completely in-line with the film’s sensibilities. A lovely synth-soundtrack thrums throughout the film, pulsing during the moments of violence and quiet alike, adding to The Guest’s neon-hued infectious mood. Rarely are there films in which every element feels right. Wingard displays competence as a director, creating a film that is wholly his own, but painting a thrilling homage to the 1980s as well. Watching The Guest I felt as though I was gaining a sneak-peek into a surefire cult classic. My face hurt from smiling the whole time.