Hate It or Love It is an adversarial discussion of pop culture items with a view toward forming a critical synthesis. One of us hated it, one of us loved it. The truth is in between.
syvo: Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s The Guest is as juvenile, senseless, and uninspired as just about anything I’ve ever seen. This waste of celluloid is what results from a generation of film students raised on the soulless neo-grindhouse of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, exhibiting a creatively bankrupt aesthetic that treats pastiche as a crutch rather than a canvas.
Tarantino, Rodriguez, and even Eli Roth all get away with their throwback fetishizations only through raw talent and genuine scholarly passion for their respective exploitation subgenres. Wingard and Barrett, on the other hand, don’t actually have a whiff of those filmmakers’ natural talents, nor do they seem to possess the patience and attention to detail that is so essential to a film’s success.
Indeed, The Guest, as well as the duo’s last effort You’re Next (2011), both feel as if they were written over the weekend and directed by someone who was only paying attention half the time; the shortcomings of both halves of this creative team are tied together and band-aided by a disrespectfully spoofy tone. But I refuse to be fooled by that kind of cop-out. This movie isn’t a farce, it isn’t “intentionally bad,” it isn’t funny. It’s just a poorly conceived, sloppily constructed bunch of nonsense.
If there is any saving grace to this movie, it can be found in its cast. Dan Stevens delivers an appropriately hammy performance as the eponymous visitor, doing a fine job at transforming himself into the kind of wooden object the script demands of him. But the extent to which he resembles a cross between Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper is continuously distracting, particularly considering the former actor’s recent filmography.
Wingard and Barrett have already acknowledged (read: admitted to) the extent to which their film borrows (I would say steals) from Nicolas Winding Refn’s limitlessly superior film Drive (2011), but the typically fine line between theft and homage is here obliterated. A quiet, very attractive young man enters the life of a family like a gentle Christ-like savior; this male fantasy object turns out to be an unspeakably violent killer, and all of this is set to synth-wave/Italo-disco vibes.
Which film am I describing? Both.
In closing, I leave the reader with an urgent piece of advice: if ever you find yourself sitting down to watch a movie made by these two, do not make the same mistake I did twice over. Do not relate to the characters’ motivations, do not expect any kind of creativity in the plotting, do not mine the repetitive violence for intelligent content, and above all do not take the film itself seriously.
In fact, just don’t watch it at all.
BK: I don’t know about you, my sweet reader, but personally I am tired. I’m tired of the monotonous modern cinema landscape, of Big Spandex* in the Summer and Oscar bait in the Fall, of reboots of nostalgia television shows and of board games and children’s toys brought to inexplicable and miserable life for the sole purpose of selling more merchandise. I want something new and original and action-packed. I want FUN at the movies! Is that too much to ask???
Fortunately for us, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett don’t seem to think so. In 2011 they brought us the wonderfully entertaining horror film You’re Next, a taught slasher flick with scares and chuckles by the bucketful, and they are back this summer with action/horror entry The Guest.
Dan Stevens stars and gives an absolutely perfect performance. He looks like the lovechild of Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, and if there is justice in Hollywood he’ll soon be as popular as they are too. He is at turns charming, witty, menacing, devious, and always a total joy to watch. He carries the movie through occasional moments of narrative nonsense with a charismatic wink and faux-American ‘yes ma’am’.
The supporting cast is also strong, especially the two youngest performers, Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer. I won’t spoil anything here, but suffice to say they offer a nice balance to the menace of Stevens’ lead role with a certain authenticity that is necessary to ground the film. Leland Orser as the pathetic father figure and Sheila Kelley as the emotionally wounded mother are quite good too.
Beyond the strong cast, the real reason to see this movie is because it is actual, honest-to-God fun to watch. There are engaging action sequences that would make a young Steven Segal proud, there are moments of horror that are genuinely scary, and there are hilarious scenes that reminded me how enjoyable a trip to the theater can be.
The film is both instantly familiar and completely original. It is an escape from the daily grind, and also an escape from boring, pretentious, or disaffecting movies. It may not be perfect, but it’s closer than most.
*Big Spandex is a term coined by syvo to describe the big-budget super hero movie phenomenon.