One of the unfortunate side effects of seeing like a thousand films a year is that you are rarely ever surprised. Every plot feels recycled, every character is a type, and every conflict has been played out. That attitude certainly affected the revelation that was Adam Wingard (director) and Simon Barrett (writer)’s 2011 slasher horror turnabout YOU’RE NEXT. I don’t ever like slasher pics in general and found myself applauding a majority of the second half of the film, laughing and jumping in my seat. Needless to say, I looked forward to the pair’s next film, THE GUEST, with a significant amount of anticipation.

THE GUEST is a phenomenal cross-genre descent into madness that starts as a post-war drama, morphs into an action shoot’em-up, and ends as a stalker giallo (a sort of Italian over-the-top slasher pic – often with a synth soundtrack). An unbelievably ‘fun’ film, Wingard embraces every tone completely, then discards it when necessary, knowing full well what direction we are heading long before we do. The story follows the Peterson family, still suffering from the loss of the eldest son Caleb to the war in Afghanistan. Mrs. Peterson spends the days depressed, Mr. Peterson is stuck in a dead end job and prone to drink, Anna is acting out, and Luke is getting picked on at school. Enter Caleb’s friend David, who served with him and has all sorts of stories about him. He can even point to himself in a picture of David’s unit. The family so wants to believe and keep a connection to their lost son, they are willing to overlook a few suspicions about David and his sudden, unannounced appearance on their doorstep. One by one David inserts himself into their life, tossing back brews with Dad or running errands for Mom. He even takes the very underage Luke to a bar where they are serving his enemies and beats the crap out of them publically. Yes, David is the definition of loose cannon, though he really seems to want to help. The last hold out is Anna, who places a call into the base where David was last stationed, which sets off a chain of events that brings David to reveal his true nature. When the military comes to collect their super-soldier, it becomes clear David never even knew Caleb and his actual intentions had nothing to do with the Peterson family.

Dan Stevens as 'David' in The Guest

Dan Stevens as ‘David’ in The Guest

THE GUEST is review-proof. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do perfectly. Every moment is full of tension, and the action is non-stop. Even before the film blows up into a siege of the Peterson home, David is beating up kids and partying with townies. Anyone who says they did not enjoy this film is either a pretentious snob or they are lying. At the center of the film is a masterful and controlled performance by Dan Stevens, aka COWNTON ABBEY’S’ Matthew Crawley. Now that his character is long since dead and mourned on the BBC smash, I think we can all admit we wished he’d just take out a submachine gun and blast the smug smiles off the faces of his distant cousins. As David, Stevens shows his trademark restraint, punctuated by moments of psychopathy. He looks tough as hell, and I can only imagine this being the first step into his climb up the action star ladder. He certainly could beat the heck out of Jeremy Renner. Also mesmerizing on screen is the beautiful Maika Monroe, who plays the gothy Anna with the right amount of teenage disgust and desire. I love that she never becomes some sort of foil to David, able to match him physically. She gets by on her wits and general mistrust, personality traits that she displays at the open of the film.

Maika Monroe as Anna Peterson in The Guest

Maika Monroe as Anna Peterson in The Guest

I don’t want to reveal too many secrets to the film, because that’s part of the fun, just like it was in YOU’RE NEXT, but THE GUEST is going to keep you on the edge of your seats and delivers laughs along its action-filled path to destruction. The third act is kind of out-of-control ridiculousness, taking place in a Halloween fun-maze, but it works, simply because by the time you’ve reached that stage of the film, you are ready for anything. And the soundtrack is a blast full of Sisters of Mercy and Love and Rockets. See this film. It’s fun, and you’ll never trust Matthew Crawley again.

THE GUEST is in theatres nationwide now.

Bears Fonté is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin, a new festival in Texas’ capital focused on SciFi.  Prior to that, Bears served as Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival from 2012-14, overseeing some 200 films selected to screen at eight venues over eight days.  The 2013 Festival saw 28 world premiere features and 7 films picked up at the festival or the week after.  His most recent short film, THE SECRET KEEPER, has been selected by over 35 US Film Festivals since September of 2012.  His feature thriller iCRIME, which he wrote and directed, was released on DVD, VOD and streaming by Vicious Circle Films in 2011.  Bears also self-produced two web-series which have been seen by a combined ten million viewers.

Prior to arriving in Austin, Bears wrote coverage for independent producers and coverage services in LA and placed in nearly every single screenwriting contest out there including Screenwriter’s Expo, Final Draft Big Break, Page International, Story Pros and Austin Film Festival.

Bears received his BA from Carleton College in British Studies and Theatre Studies and a MFA in Directing from Indiana University and has directed over forty plays, including the Austin Critics Table nominee Corpus Christi, and the Austin Shakespeare Festival’s Complete Works of Shakspeare Abridged. He studied writing with noted playwrights Jeff Hatcher and Denis Reardon, and directed the first-ever professional productions by Princess Grace Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Don Zolidis and up-and-coming playwright Itamar Moses. He is currently working on a new five minute short to submit to festivals in 2015.


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