I use that term a lot when I talk about films. What exactly does it mean? Simply put, when I say a film is Not Optional, it means that you need to check this film out. It’s an experience. Now, these aren’t your Casablancas or Citizen Kane’s, but these are films that are visceral, fun, and usually subvert the genre in an unexpected way.
The Guest is Not Optional.
So, what’s the film about?
A soldier named “David” unexpectedly visits the Petersen family, introducing himself as a friend of their son who had died during the Afghanistan war. After he is welcomed into their home for a couple of days, a series of deaths begin to occur around his presence. It’s then that their daughter Anna begins to have suspicions of David being connected to the deaths.
Look, we can sense immediately that David is not the lost lamb he pretends to be; the opening sequence alone has already clued us in. But what makes The Guest great, is that it takes its time revealing what is really going on and has a lot of fun in that slow reveal process. The second half of the film careens headlong into glorious paranoia and conspiracy-theory, reminiscent of 1970s political thrillers, involving gleaming board-rooms populated by stone-faced military brass, top-secret briefcases, and world-class weaponry that even the military wouldn’t admit to developing. David’s strangeness is apparent from the get-go, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The direction in The Guest is really well done. Adam Wingard is no stranger to taking a genre and turning it on its head. In 2011’s You’re Next, Wingard subverted the standard home-invasion trope by making the hunters become the hunted. (You should also check that film out). Wingard also directed two of the better segments in the V/H/S and V/H/S 2 horror anthologies. With The Guest, Wingard ups the stakes and delivers an intense thriller while injecting it with a shot of comedy-horror.
The performance by Dan Stevens is really what elevates The Guest from great to Not Optional. Dan Stevens has slowly become one of my favorite actors working today. From sweet talker Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, to David Haller in the exceptional Legion, Stevens has really taken Hollywood by storm. That’s not to mention his great performance as Beast in 2017’s safe reimaging of Beauty and the Beast. But it was The Guest that really got me on the Dan Stevens train. He kills it as David. A psychopath who is using the memory of a family’s dead son to find answers about his past, Stevens has so much fun in the role. This all leads to a fascinating and compelling presence at the the film’s core.
Not to be outdone by Stevens, is Maika Monroe. 2014 was an incredibly busy year for Monroe, as she starred in both The Guest and the genre-bending It Follows. Monroe does a great job as the “hey, I don’t think this guy is who he says he is, and why aren’t any of you believing me?” character. She’s exceptionally great during the final showdown where she confronts David.
You can’t talk about The Guest without talking about its soundtrack. This film has one of my favorite soundtracks in quite some time. With it’s mix of haunting ballads and 80’s electronica, it’s a wonderful, foreboding blend.
So why does The Guest work? Besides Stevens’ performance, I think it’s because Wingard has a good eye and ear for this type of material and has fun with their influences, paying homage to John Carpenter and others. The film is also not afraid to be silly and bold. The Guest could have easily drowned in top-heavy seriousness, while trying to make some political point. But instead, it’s really not serious at all … and that’s awesome.
Start your October out right and check out The Guest.
It’s simply … Not Optional.