The newest collaboration between director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett (You’re Next) is a hugely entertaining throwback action/thriller called The Guest, which premiered in the Midnight Madness program at TIFF this past weekend. Playing heavily on many of the genre tropes that define the golden era of 80’s John Carpenter films, Wingard has taken what amounts to a fairly simple plot and turned it into an exercise in pure style, adding just enough mystery, dark comedy and explosive action to keep you hooked right up until the colourful finale.
The film opens when a polite young man named David (Dan Stevens) shows up at the doorstep of the grieving Peterson family, claiming to have served in the military alongside their eldest son who died in Iraq. The Petersons invite David into their home to stay for a few days, where he quickly wins each of them over by helping them with various problems in their lives. But when a few people in the town turn up dead under suspicious circumstances, daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) suspects David is responsible, and begins a dangerous investigation into the true identity of their mysterious houseguest.
Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is the clear standout here amongst a stellar supporting cast, pulling a complete career-180 with his portrayal of the enigmatic David, who alternates between charming and deadly without warning. He’s the sort of anti-hero that wins you over with his steel-blue eyes, Jason Bourne training, and darkly comedic demeanor, keeping you guessing as to his true intentions until the cards are really on the table. Like the film itself, he is simply loads of fun to watch, and Wingard capitalizes on this fact with the help of some extremely tight pacing and a bunch of exciting set-pieces, producing a fun and thrilling time at the movies that simultaneously celebrates and embodies the genres that he clearly knows and loves.
The Guest was one of my favourite films at TIFF this year, and I’m already looking forward to its Canadian theatrical release on September 26th.