Some films are born great, blessed with that rare combination of an intelligent script, superlative performances and virtuoso direction.
Other films achieve greatness through luck or circumstance.
Then there are films like Adam Wingard’s violent psychological thriller, which achieve a level of greatness – some might say cult appeal – by virtue of their shoddy construction and ham-fisted execution.
Harking back to bloodthirsty horror thrillers of the 1970s and 1980s, which were heavy on the synthesized electronic soundtracks, The Guest is a hysterically overblown anti-war movie that brings conflict to a peaceful community whose sons and daughters are fighting in the Middle East.
Punctuated by unintentional laugh-out-loud interludes, Wingard’s picture is a howlingly funny diversion from reality that merrily melds The Terminator and Halloween with only a cursory glance to plausibility.
Leading man Dan Stevens obliterates fond memories of Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, portraying a sexy psychopath who gets one diner waitress hot under the collar by emerging from a steamy shower wearing just a low slung towel and a roguish smile.
Lady Mary would have the vapours!
Spencer Peterson (Leland Orser) and his wife Laura (Sheila Kelley) are devastated when their oldest son, Caleb, is killed during a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Their grief is salved when Caleb’s brother in arms, David Collins (Stevens), arrives at their front door to fulfil his comrade’s dying wish.
Desperate for an emotional connection to her boy, Laura invites David to stay and the newcomer ingratiates himself to youngest son Luke (Brendan Meyer) by doling out rough justice to school bullies.
Caleb’s sister Anna (Maika Monroe) is harder to win over – she doesn’t think it’s healthy to re-open old wounds caused by her brother’s passing.
“We don’t need a walking, breathing reminder of him right now,” she tells her boyfriend Zeke (Chase Williamson).
David plies his boyish charm until Anna is smitten too, telling her: “If I had a girl like you back home, I wouldn’t have gone to the Middle East to get shot at.”
He is the perfect houseguest until a visit from Major Carver (Lance Reddick) forces the Petersons to question the veracity of David’s story.
The Guest is a hoot for all the wrong reasons, completely losing the plot and any sense of decorum when Simon Barrett’s script begins its convoluted explanation of David’s shady past.
Stevens is devilishly handsome and Wingard’s camera lingers on his twinkling blue eyes in swoonsome close-up.
The supporting cast are at the mercy of the poor writing, desperately trying to make us care about a family who welcome a stranger into their home without properly checking his credentials.
The frenetic blood-soaked finale at a Halloween-themed ball is a riot of giggles and gore that perfectly encapsulates the wackiness of Wingard’s shambolic vision.