Halloween is the one time of the year that someone may ring the doorbell and be invited in as a guest pretending to be something that they are not. Any other day of the year and that behavior might be viewed as a little… suspect. Home invasion films, like many other subgenres, serve a range of clever narratives and themes. Adam Wingard (V/H/S) plays an interesting game of ding-dong-deceive with his wicked 2014 thriller, The Guest. Starring Dan Stevens (Apostle), Maika Monroe (It Follows), Leland Orser (Seven), Sheila Kelley (Dancing At The Blue Iguana), Brendan Meyer (The OA), Lance Reddick (The Wire) as well as Joel David Moore (Avatar) and Ethan Embry (The Devil’s Candy), The Guest is a fiery ride that begins when “A string of mysterious deaths leads a teenager to become suspicious of a soldier who showed up on her family’s doorstep and claimed to be a friend of her dead brother.” Duty, trust, grief, trauma, mischief, and loyalty all collide in Wingard’s stylish supercharged thrill ride.
When it comes to the reach of recognizable horror film scores, the 70’s and 80’s were eras of grand achievement. There was the distinct slice of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the unforgettable sting of John Carpenter’s Halloween earlier on, but the films that followed, especially in the 80’s, embraced those legendary sounds and created an everlasting influence on future filmmakers. Since it became one of the greatest ways to instill a nostalgic vibe on the screen, borrowing synth scoring from the past has now become a trendy trademark in modern horror style. While some films infringe and abuse the appropriate application of the synth stamp, The Guest rejuvenates it through by taking a modern approach to its mix.
Known for his synthesizer-central dance music, composer Steve Moore (Bliss) adds appeal to the film’s already alluring character. Incorporating the familiar pulsed beats with both breathy techno and an edgy party wave gives the film’s sound that retro rhythm without being jarring or overwhelming. From the drawn out pin drops, morphed bell tolls, and spiraling tempos, The Guest’s background noise is a contemporary experiment in gently dipping old school sound into present day electronic waters. The trill whirring and focused pound come together in a surprisingly soft kaleidoscope of auditory effect, allowing The Guest to stand out from others who adopt that signature kind of score.
“[…] The Guest’s background noise is a contemporary experiment in gently dipping old school sound into present day electronic waters.“
Working with a score that dictates so much of the film’s prompts and moods, one might believe the sound would have to be a hearty medley but Moore practices extreme control and precision in his sequences. While Moore’s brilliant scoring relies on a majority of instrumental cues, it also blends individual songs like “Haunted When the Minutes Drag” by Love and Rockets and “Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Version)” by Annie into scenes of the film to create an authentic, but stylized environment fit for the unique content. The scenes of The Guest are almost marked by their sound signals charging the transitions with devious and playful vibes.
As David’s plans and the pieces of his story fall together, the auditory applications give life to his unspoken thoughts. Moore knows how to grab an audience by the ears and does so with the perfectly placed sound drops and pulls that draws a physical reaction from viewers. The moments of stillness with the dialogue taking charge contrast well with the taunting thrills detailed by motions and action shot effects. The combination of these interesting audial components give The Guest a wild retro video game atmosphere that commands attention.
The celebration of Halloween in the horror genre is an opportunity to really elaborate on a film’s physical aesthetic. Wingard’s The Guest takes place during the year’s spookiest holiday complete with a high school Halloween dance to facilitate the film’s exciting finale. Halloween decorations and fall style decor pepper the scenes detailing the season without overpowering the film’s general look. Jack-O-Lanterns, paper wall decals, and house parties all become part of The Guest’s mild Halloween composition. For anyone who enjoys even the slightest sight of a pumpkin in their scary movies, The Guest delivers on background representation of the more horror-centric annual celebration.
The feeling of Halloween, from the colors to the date itself, is present throughout the whole film enough that it warrants The Guest to be a considerably worthy Halloween movie, but controlled to the point that it can be enjoyed during any time of the year. The narrative’s fierce working palette is vibrant and attractive without being boastful or showy. Skilled and experienced with everything that passes through a lens, cinematographer Robby Baumgartner (Blair Witch) captures some really perfect instances of the film’s eclectic styled imagery.
“For anyone who enjoys even the slightest sight of a pumpkin in their scary movies, The Guest delivers on background representation of the more horror-centric annual celebration.“
Light and color both play a tremendous role in The Guest’s powerful visual aesthetic. In the scheme of Halloween, orange lights are strung up by the dozen while multicolored exposures take over the screen. Like the revival of synth music from the 80’s being an abused practice, oftentimes the saturation of color dilutes the substance of a story in order to enhance the style with a nostalgic fitting. Wingard exercises artistic restraint in flooding his throwback thriller with vintage influence. The Guest stands firm and strong in a daring multicolored palette that emphasizes pops of pastels, primaries, and neons.
The colorful hues of blues, oranges, yellows, purples, greens, and even browns all play off of each other in what might seem like an odd mix, but somehow crafts a rather sublime yet stable fashion. Utilizing thick black darkness or extremely bright blue skies, the most striking moments of the film are highlighted by the cast of day or night overtones. The decision to allow the more wicked scenes to occur in broad daylight lets the viewers know that all bets are off and any territory is fair game for battle. All of the decisions as far as the look goes, whether suppressed, inspired, fresh, or electrified, give The Guest it’s edgy and rare novelty.
A Friend Of The Family
It’s easy to hate the villain when they exhibit all of the evil qualities we associate with monsters. However, when the villain of a story is also a source of support and protection for the characters that viewers care about, it goes without saying that the association can become somewhat blurry. Oozing charisma and danger, Dan Stevens takes on the role of David Collins with a confident attitude that puts a fresh set of eyes on the traits that create the bad guy in horror. Part of Stevens’ charm as David, aside from being visually handsome, is his noble politeness. As David makes his way into the home and hearts of the Peterson Family, he gets personal with everyone immediately and naturally.
Though he is taking advantage of their hospitality, David does try to make their lives better in big and small ways regardless of the consequences of his nefarious actions. Stevens’ magnetic charm easily turns to aggression and murder making David a very genuine, but deadly anti-hero. His behavior turns on a dime and even his most sincere of intentions leaves a blood trail. Playing on the very serious issues surrounding PTSD and mental health illnesses that soldiers experience upon discharge, The Guest presents an unstoppable weaponized villain that somehow triggers the soft spots of the heart and then takes a blunt object to them.
Simon Barrett’s (You’re Next) screenplay takes suspicious circumstances and dials up the peril to eleven with The Guest. Rather than running viewers through the mill on figuring out if David is who he says he is, Barrett quickly establishes David as the threat and then allows the why to his chaos unfold with the narrative. Engaging Stevens’ mysteriously menacing performance with an exploitive military experimentation coverup provides the film with a steady amount of content to fill its smooth hour and forty minute runtime. The story itself is a rush of fluid, easygoing storytelling without the unnecessary complexities that are sometimes crafted within the horror genre to develop meaning.
“Oozing charisma and danger, Dan Stevens takes on the role of David Collins with a confident attitude that puts a fresh set of eyes on the traits that create the bad guy in horror.“
The Guest has its own nuanced themes, but like David’s purpose, they’re both out in the open and subtly hidden deep. As David fulfills the missing piece of the broken Peterson family by doing and saying all of the right things, viewers can’t help but like him all the while his secret ulterior motive is always lingering in the background. The narrative that propels The Guest forward is unique and original, relying on hardly any gore, except for a few prime kill shots, to maximize the thrills. David’s initially protective nature masks the impending havoc that eventually ensues which makes his later transgressions that much more shocking when the action ramps up. Among the monsters, the supernatural, and the extraterrestrial, The Guest proves that there is nothing quite like man-made terror.
It might seem like The Guest holds a certain intensity from the beginning due in large part to all of the aforementioned details, but once more of David’s identity is revealed and his cover is compromised the third act really pulls rank in action. The finale is a deadly rampage that saddens, satisfies, and surprises. The Guest is pure cinematic entertainment and while it has problems like all other films do, it’s practically engineered to hit every thriller high note horror fans could demand. To put it casually, The Guest is just a really cool movie.
The Guest is currently streaming on Netflix. If you’re into a good looking nightmare, a great Halloween aesthetic, Maika Monroe, modern synth music, or The Terminator, then you should be happily disillusioned by David Collins’ stay.
Are you a fan of Adam Wingard’s The Guest? What do you think about the film’s killer scoring and soundtrack? Does Dan Stevens play a good villain? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!