The Guest is a movie has been popping up on my Netflix for weeks now and I would just mentally tag it as a film to watch one night and move on until I actually felt like sitting through it. The film follows David (Dan Stevens) a ex-soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son, Caleb, who died in action. After David is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence and a department of government is looking for him.
The Guest starts out promising, It sets up all the questions you want answered about David. Who is he? What does he want? Why does he seem off? David starts out really charming, winning over Calab’s mother and father almost overnight and they beg him to stay longer as he is the last link they have to their dead son, but it doesn’t take long before we know that there is something wrong with David as he begins to violently help the family out in their problems.
The film is really uneven, Dan is good in the role then there are times he is just awful as he switches from his gentleman to psycho role, Nearly every actor in here is bad except for my always favorite character actor Joel David Moore (Hatchet) and the cute as a button Maika Monroe (It Follows) who jumps back and forth from doing something interesting then being completely forgettable throughout the movie.
Adam Wingard (V/H/S, V/H/S 2/ You’re Next) who started out and mainly directed horror films tries to add this to the action genre and it just doesn’t work. At first David is mysterious and you can see he’s bad for Caleb’s family but it all starts to unravel when it’s revealed that he and Caleb were part of some sort of super soldier program that was used to make them into the perfect killing machines for the government.
Wingard and the crew reveal in not explaining much of anything about David’s backstory, so much so that Lance Reddick just shows up out of nowhere as a a Major who is cleaning up any survivors of this program we are told nothing about. Adam Wingard is good at making your feel uneasy in his films, the entirety of the V/H/S series and You’re Next do just that, make you uneasy and has had me shifting in my chair or couch several times but by the end of The Guest, all I could do was be pissed because I couldn’t help but think how someone’s incompetence help manufacture several unnecessary deaths. This movie left me angry because, like the people who started this program, the stupidity behind it left everyone with a horrible outcome.
Caleb is a computer programmer working for Bluebook, the apparent Google of the Not-Too-Distant-Future. He wins a company contest to meet with Nathan, the company’s Howard Hughes-esque genius founder, on a top-secret project at his secluded home. When he arrives, he discovers that he has been selected to help Nathan test a new form of artificial intelligence in the form of an advanced robot named Ava. As the story goes on, Caleb begins to have feelings for Ava, who may or may not have feelings of her own for Caleb and against Nathan.
Domhall Gleeson is the everyman-esque main character, Caleb, and as such, he gives the film its humanity; the quiet, reserved guy who is intrigued by what he sees, but gradually starts to question and challenge what the circumstances present themselves. He provides the thoughtful eagerness that properly feeds against Oscar Isaac’s douche-extraordinaire Nathan. Isaac plays Nathan as the guy you knew in college who was approachable, who knows from the get-go that he was smarter and more talented than you, but still tried to be a friendly rival all the same. He nearly steals the show while helping provide a Luke-and-Han dynamic between the two, which may come into play when they co-star together in Star Wars: The Force Awakens this Christmas. The standout is Alicia Vikander, who gives Ava the type of effective but reserved wonderment toward humanity, and Caleb in particular, that Brent Spiner gave to Star Trek: TNG’s Data, but hers is with a greater sense of either genuine fear or cunning manipulation. Sonoya Mizuno plays Kyoko, Nathan’s assistant, as a practically mute slave, unable to speak of the horrors she’s seen in Nathan’s hidden fortress, though she finds the strength to stand tall when the final act comes into play.
Garland, who also wrote the original 28 Days Later and the criminally-underrated Dredd, populates his directorial debut with scenes comprised mostly of long, takes between one or two of the characters with cutting only when seemingly necessary. These scenes are in environments consisting of either bright, Kubrickian hallways and sitting rooms or in the serene, almost magical forests that surround Nathan’s tiny structure outside. Nearly every shot in the film, courtesy of cinematographer Rob Hardy, is a wide-angle photograph unto itself.
In addition to the finely-tuned acting, I really appreciated Garland’s approach to 2001 and Solaris visuals. He opts for bright-but-claustrophobic rooms and hallways shot with long, wide-angle takes to give Nathan’s small forest dwelling with a big, techy basement a sense of dangerous intrigue. It effectively and beautifully plays on the nature-versus-nurture state of Ava and Caleb’s budding relationship as well as the conflict that arises between the trio. Ava’s design itself is equally sparse but effective, with just her arms, torso and the back of her head showing any visual signs of inhumanity. She even manages to hide those with some girly outfits and wigs to make herself look and potentially feel real.
If there is anything to complain about the film, it’s that there a only a precious few surprises. Nathan’s story is a variation of Frankenstein’s Mad Scientist/Playing God motivation, and as said before, Caleb is pretty much a smarter, more cynical version of Luke Skywalker. But when your biggest complaints are retreads on well-established formulas, at least ones that have been done over and over again for decades, you can easily forgive the filmmakers for going the unbroken routes that they did.
Yes, there is precious few fresh ideas about this tried-and-true cautionary tale, but film still thrives on the wide-open sparseness of the environments and cinematography as well as the completely believable performances of the three main actors. In the modern era of Sci-Fi, littered with the flashy fun of superheroes and giant robots (which I also love), it’s nice to see the kind of smart, bleak and thought-provoking tales of the future that only seem to come along every few years. And Garland has taken this simple idea and created a fantastic, little film that’s the best of its kind since Moon and District 9 that may not be a fully recognized now, but in hindsight will only become a benchmark for Sci-Fi films of this decade. Maybe the future won’t be so bad after all.
Written by: Christopher Dees