This week in movies you missed:
Would you invite him in?
Do you long for the days of watching nifty little thrillers on VHS? The latest from horror director Adam Wingard (You're Next
) harks back to those rental finds of the '80s in a big way.
What You Missed
Who wouldn't trust a face like David's? The young Iraq veteran (Dan Stevens) has a sweet smile, a forthright gaze and the kind of guileless blue eyes that turn cynics into believers.
That's what happens when David drops in on the small-town Petersons, who are still grieving their son Caleb, killed in action. Part of Caleb's unit, David says he's here to deliver their loved one's last message.
Mom Laura (Sheila Kelley) begs David to stay the night. Dad (Leland Orser) is suspicious — till the guest proves to be the perfect sounding board for his workplace woes.
Soon David has moved into Caleb's room and taken his place in the family. He shows teenage son Luke (Brendan Meyer) how to neutralize the bullies who torment him, and counsels sullen daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) to leave her stoner boyfriend and get her life together.
But Anna harbors doubts about David. Not even a glimpse of his ridiculously buff bod emerging from the shower will make her forget that he's just a bit too
Why You Missed It
Since last September, The Guest
has played 53 U.S. theaters. It's available on DVD and Blu-ray, or for streaming rental on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube and other outlets.
Should You Keep Missing It?
David in Earnest Super-Patriot mode
My 20-point, highly scientific scale for the assessment of indie films:
1-4 points: Does it look pretty?
What is this, "Miami Vice"?
3/4. Sorry, I didn't notice the cinematography. I was busy staring into those blue, blue eyes.
I did catch some nice shots of New Mexico, and '80s-tastic use of color in a few scenes.
1-4 points: Does anything happen?
4/4. Hells, yeah!
If you put cult classic The Stepfather
(1987 version) in a blender with a Bourne
movie and added a dash of Prom Night
, this might be the movie you'd get. That's my way of saying more happens than you'd expect, and possibly too much.
Writer Simon Barrett (You're Next
) starts with a simple, effective situation — the charming stranger winning over a vulnerable family — and then sends the plot spinning in unexpected directions. Do those new directions pay off? In terms of dramatic resolution, nope. In terms of setups for creative action scenes that will make you both cringe in horror and laugh, absolutely.
1-4 points: Does what happens make sense?
2/4. See above re: too many plot vectors. With them come plot holes and plot loose ends.
However, the movie retains a strong emotional core and a sense of consistent motivation, if you buy into the premise of Stevens' character.
1-4 points: Do the characters seem like real people? Failing that, do they look pretty?
Luke and Anna manage not to cause too many shout-at-the-screen moments.
4/4. Stevens is best known for "Downton Abbey," but The Guest
makes a case for him as a movie star. From start to finish, this is a riveting sociopath performance.
In the very first scene, the viewer notices something off about David that Mrs. Peterson doesn't — when she turns away, that smile of his crooks a little too far to one side, mutating toward a predatory sneer. Or maybe it's a glitch in his all-American Boy Scout programming. Whatever it is, we know something's wrong, yet he continues to charm us, too.
Our own ambivalence makes it more believable when Anna's feelings about David flip-flop — even if we do want to yell at her to "Stop falling for him, goldarnit!" To her credit, she manages to be a lot smarter than the heroine of your average charming-stalker movie, and a decent character in her own right.
1-4 points: Does the movie give us a reason to care about anything happening on screen?
3/4. The Guest
isn't a profound movie, though I guess you could use it to start a conversation about how veterans are perceived in America. I never lost my awareness that it was a pulpy melodrama, and enjoyed every second of that pulp.
The scene where David confronts a gang of high school bullies in a roadhouse especially stands out. And the big set piece that takes place in a cheesy Halloween spook house just because?
It brought the glory days of VHS back to mind in a big way.
In sum, The Guest is more evidence that young directors are doing with '80s B-movies what Quentin Tarantino does with '70s B-movies. While originality is great, I prefer a self-aware or a straight-faced pastiche over a tepid remake of those VHS classics any day.
Verdict: 16/20. If you're cheap and want to wait for this on Netflix, check out You're Next there. I didn't enjoy it as much as The Guest, but it's a fun twist on the done-to-death home-invasion genre.
This Week in Theaters
Finally, Vermonters can see Foxcatcher
, produced by UVM alum Jon Kilik (Roxy and Savoy). Read my interview with Kilik here. American Sniper
is now in wide release, too; review here.
Michael Mann directed the cyberthriller Blackhat
. Kevin Hart messes with a shy guy's nuptials in The Wedding Ringer
. Kids' flick Paddington
is reportedly pretty sweet.
This Week in Your Living Room
Gone Girl, Love Is Strange, Men, Women & Children, The Two Faces of January, A Walk Among the Tombstones.