Adam Wingard's "The Guest" is very good indeed. | THE FILMS OF CINEMA | Forum
Adam Wingard is the director of last year's "You're Next", a film that's also about familial tensions interrupted by hostile outsiders. Nothing wrong with sticking to what you know if you do it right, eh?
Let's start with the many positives. "The Guest" is suspenseful from start to finish. It features a superb performance by Dan Stevens as the title character, and good performances all round - a particular standout for me would be Maika Monroe as Anna, the 20-year-old daughter of the family. As a suspense film, it's top-notch. With the possible exception of the bullies who torment Brendan Meyer's character (they're just assholes, nothing more than that, but they have very little screentime so it doesn't particularly matter) the characters are all great. This film nails the "sympathetic but flawed protagonist" idea. These people are mostly well-meaning but flawed. You can absolutely root for them and hope that bad stuff doesn't happen to them; it's all the more affecting when it does.
As a mystery, it has some issues, chiefly with the ending (which I'll cover in the spoiler section). There are a couple of instances of characters telling other characters stuff that they really shouldn't, and it makes little sense for them to do so. Without going into details, the resolution of the mystery is something of a let-down. Up until that point I'd say the film is easily "great". At that point it becomes merely "good".
It also unfortunately lacks in the action department. There are a few action scenes, but they're not well-shot - there's a fight scene edited with quick cuts and shakycam early on, and at least two instances of gratuitous slow-motion that I know some of you guys don't mind, but for me really spoilt the immersion of the scenes. Unfortunately Wingard has not proven that he's a capable action director in either this or "You're Next". I would also accuse the film of lacking subtlety at times - I really didn't need to see "the guest" staring menacingly at the camera while creepy music played to assure me that, yes, this guy's the villain. (Please note that "Hostel" did the exact opposite, when the guys first arrived at the hotel and are greeted by a bevy of scantily-clad beauties, scoring it with music that might be more at home in a reality dating series where the contestants first arrive at the island paradise that'll be their home. That was way more effective IMO.)
Based on this and "You're Next", I think Wingard has a masterpiece in him. He just needs to learn to use more subtle cues and get a really good action director. "The Guest" isn't a masterpiece, but it does what it does extremely well and pushed all the right buttons for me in the process. I strongly recommend it.
Ok, if you haven't seen this movie, skip the spoiler section here until you have. Seriously. I'm going to talk a helluva lot about the ending, including what I thought worked with it and what didn't, and "The Guest" isn't the kind of film where you want this kind of thing spoiled.
Right. Here's the nitpicks I had with the ending and the run-up to it.
First of all, the school scene. This must be the best-funded school in America - either that, or they just blew their entire yearly budget on one night. Seriously, the decor at my last school's Halloween party were made out of crepe paper. Who the heck turns an entire room of that size into a maze? And why is it so solid? How long did this thing take to put up? And how do they plan on getting it down again?
Talking of the maze, two more nitpicks: first of all, there's a "hall of mirrors" scene (how did they even pay for this stuff? All those mirrors must've cost a fortune by themselves!) which basically rips off "Enter the Dragon" wholesale. It doesn't even seem to be an homage, it's just a blatant ripoff. I'm not cool with this. Secondly, when two characters are lost in the maze, they call out for directions, and the guy who built it (who can hear them for some reason) gives them exact instructions on how to get out without knowing where they are. How the heck does that happen?
Next, David's plan involves deliberately leaving weapons for the two kids to find, so that they'll be forced to use them on him, and he can fake his own death. This seems like a pretty damn perilous plan, unless he doesn't care whether or not he lives or dies (which, to be fair, he may not.) What actually happens is this: first off, one of the kids shoots him in the shoulder with the gun he left on the ground by the dead soldier. (At this point, David's already taken a bullet to the leg.) Then, when he's trying to strangle her, the other kid jumps on his back and stabs him twice - first in the neck, secondly in the chest. Any one of those attacks could've accidentally killed him - and it's not as though he can depend on these two amateurs to be good shots so he can predict where they'll attack and act accordingly! What if Luke, say, had hit the jugular vein with the first stab (which David had absolutely no way to control, since Luke took him by surprise and attacked from behind)? I don't care how much you do the whole Terminator limp (and David does it a good deal) - if you get knifed there, you're pretty much a goner.
As to the two instances of people talking too much that I mentioned earlier...
...I buy that Luke would accidentally blurt out part of his sister's plan to David. He's just learnt he's not being expelled, and he trusts David's intentions despite knowing that he lied about his identity and correctly suspecting that David might be a killer. So him being relaxed enough to give it away makes sense to me. What doesn't make sense, though, is that he'd betray his own sister deliberately! This kid is smart enough to realise just how much trouble he could cause by doing this. Accidentally, yes. Deliberately, which is how I wish they hadn't have played it but they did - no way.
But even accepting this, the action of the military policeman when talking to Anna is even more nonsensical. He could have told her just about anything about David and she'd have had no choice but to believe him - he's an escaped convict, a war criminal, a psychopathic ex-soldier with PTSD, etc. Hell, Anna's pretty much suspected all of these things herself. Instead he tells her the exact truth that we already know will bury him and his company if anybody finds out about it! Seriously, how stupid is this guy? Why give her this kind of information?
So that's all of the stuff I wish they'd have done differently. A whole host of little plot contrivances and implausibilities. None of them spoil the movie for me, but they're mostly what makes it less than "great". It's still really good though.
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