FrightFest 2014 Diary – The Guest

Mike’s FrightFest diary reviews continue with this latest entry, a review of the opening night of the horror film festival and its first screening of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s latest movie, The Guest (released in UK cinemas today).

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)

the guest 2The opening night of Frightfest on the Thursday (21 August 2014) is just main screen films; no discovery screens, no decisions to make, I just have to take my weekend pass seat and enjoy. Well, hopefully enjoy. The three films on show were The Guest, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and Zombeavers. With Sin City 2 going on general release on the following Monday nationwide, I had made plans to see The Congress starring Robin Wright at Cineworld and then return for Zombeavers. As with all my films at FrightFest, I refrain from watching trailers and reading reviews, just using the synopsis from the FrightFest website as my only guide. Except on Thursday, I don’t need any help so just sit back and enjoy.

The Guest is directed by Adam Wingard and written by long time collaborative partner Simon Barrett. The cast feature familiar actors such as Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey – ITV), Maika Monroe (The Bling Ring), Leland Orser (Faults – which also played the festival), Sheila Kelley (Lost – TV) and Brendan Meyer (Tooth Fairy). The plot revolves around a young soldier who appears on the door step of the Peterson family, claiming to have served in the army with their son. Mrs Peterson (Kelley) welcomes David (Stevens) into the house and he is invited to stay with the family while he is in town. David is charming and as he soon gets to know the Peterson’s and their problems, a number of deaths occur. David takes the son, Luke (Meyer), under his wing and teaches him to fight back against the kids bullying him at school. Yet the daughter, Anna (Monroe), is a little more reluctant to accept David and as she starts to uncover the truth it soon becomes clear David isn’t who they think he is.

An interesting opening film for FrightFest. In my book, it’s a thriller – a dark one at that – yet Stevens’s character is never really sinister enough to push it into the horror genre. However, it is extremely entertaining and I really did enjoy it. While it may be dark, there were some very nice comic touches, usually coming from Stevens and his ultra-dry and extremely cool performance. He really did impress me here, as I can’t even recall his performance in The Fifth State (and I don’t watch Downton Abbey). The action sequences were very well done and he coped with them with ease. A new action star in the making or even a new James Bond? I think he might just be on the young side for that role, but I’d be happy to see him do it.

Maika Monroe also turns in a solid performance and is a young actress on the up, soon to be seen at the London Film Festival in It Follows; definitely an actress to watch out for. Monroe’s character Anna is streetwise, she has an older boyfriend, parties and enjoys life, even with her father trying to keep her under control. She is a rebel, but she’s not out of control, and is always a little wary of David. The rest of the cast are all very good, they are all aided by the punchy screenplay. It starts on the run (literally) and doesn’t really slow down. It’s to the point, doesn’t rely on building the character back stories, but does a really good job of giving you enough detail to allow the story to flow. I got a really good idea of the family dynamics as the film progressed and why it was fairly easy for Stevens’s character to gain the confidence of most of them. Then comes the story of David and it’s a little out of left field, something I wasn’t expecting and just adds a new dimension to the film. I’ll leave this one for you to find out about yourselves.

The final third of the film zips along with the added twist and the final confrontation being very well put together, it’s tense and quite bloody at times and a solid ending to the film. The music from the film was also very good. Composed by Steve Moore, the score is electric, a typical 80’s synth sound; much like Drive or recently Cold In July.

Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S and V/H/S 2) and Simon Barratt have crafted a tense, solid thriller here, with some decent action sequences and quite a bit of blood – although not enough to make it a true horror film in my eyes, but some may think differently. Wingard continues to impress me and I really did enjoy You’re Next, along with the V/H/S 2 segment, ‘Phase I Clinical Trials’, which I really liked. I’ve not seen A Horrible Way to Die yet so think I’ll check that out now.

In the end it was a super film to open the festival with, and one I’ll be going back to see with my mates when it opens nationwide on the 5th of September.

Mike will be back to review some of the other films he checked out at this year’s FrightFest soon.

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