Jan 9, 2015

The Guest (2014)

Lately, there has been a strange trend among a couple American mumble-core hacks and independent horror pseudo-auteurs to collaborate on ostensibly quirky genre-bending cinematic works made for rural hipsters and slightly more discerning horror fans who do not need to wallow in buckets of blood to appreciate a film. Indeed, Adam Wingard (Pop Skull, A Horrible Way to Die), Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), and Joe Swanberg (Silver Bullets, Drinking Buddies) represent a sort of rising dynasty of pseudo-auteurist degeneracy that pumps out a lot of pointless films over a short time, sort of like a group of yank Fassbinders, albeit minus the genius and talent for histrionic melodrama. Arguably, the three directors are probably best known for the ‘found-footage’ horror anthology V/H/S (2012), as well as the darkly comedic ‘slasher’ flick You’re Next (2011) directed by Wingard and starring Swanberg and West, with the the latter work certainly being their best collaboration to date. Though he and his buddy Swanberg demonstrated they have the sexual maturity of autistic middle schoolers with their pseudo-erotic hipster digital diarrhea abortion Autoerotic, Wingard has certainly proven to be the most talented of his pansy pals with not only You’re Next, but especially his latest feature The Guest (2014) which, not surprisingly, neither of his pals had any involvement with whatsoever. Penned by fellow hipster horror homeboy Simon Barrett (Dead Birds, V/H/S), Wingard’s latest work may be typical of his previous films in that it was thrown together in a fairly sloppy fashion, features more than its fair share of overtly amateurish acting, basks in postmodern posturing and cross-genre masturbation, and is conspicuously flawed on the most fundamental level, yet it is also his most endlessly enthralling cinematic effort to date. Wingard’s sort of celluloid equivalent to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) in terms of its hodgepodge of film and genre references, as well as its retro 1980s synthesizer-driven soundtrack featuring songs by industrial and goth groups like D.A.F. (Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft), Love and Rockets, The Sisters of Mercy, Clan of Xymox, and Front 242, among various groups, The Guest is a short and sweet action-packed movie miscreation plagued by patently preposterous fanboy logic, rather retarded murder rampages, and mentally vacant pot-addled teenybopper morons, yet I somehow liked it enough that I watched it twice, which is something I never thought I would do with a Wingard flick. Like an American philistine take on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968) meets John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) as starring the more suave and macho yet no less demented little brother of the eponymous serial killer of the hit TV-series Dexter (2006-2013), Wingard’s little wonder flick has about as much aesthetic merit as a Mountain Dew commercial and the sophistication and moral prowess of a Michael Bay blockbuster, but it also reminds the viewer that somewhat decent popcorn flicks can be made on fairly modest budgets. A genre-confused action-thriller-antiwar-horror hybrid made more or less for the same sort of mindlessly hedonistic teenagers it somewhat unflatteringly portrays, albeit with a nostalgia for the 1980s that somehow manages not to be radically repugnant, The Guest is certainly the best pomo jerk-off piece of at least the last couple years, as a work that Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and Quentin Tarantino could learn a thing or two from in terms of ‘relatively’ seamlessly combining cinematic influences and tweaking genre expectations. 

 A strong, smart, suave, stoic and respectful ex-soldier named David Andersen Collins (English actor Dan Steven of the British post-Edwardian period drama TV series Downton Abbey) stops by the secluded country home of the Peterson family and informs the matriarch, Laura (Sheila Kelley), that he is a friend of her deceased son Caleb who was killed in the disastrous Zionist war in Afghanistan. After confirming that David is telling the truth by looking at a picture of her perished progeny’s army platoon and seeing him standing with her dead son, Laura invites the seemingly harmless guest to stay at her humble abode. Before Laura and her scrawny beta-male softcore dipsomaniac husband Spencer (Leland Orser) know it, David, who is not shy when it comes to doing domestic chores around the house and spending quality time with the family, becomes more or less their surrogate son, as a seemingly morally pristine confederate Aryan Christ of sorts who knows what to say and do at all times, especially when it comes to a grieving family that has been socially splintered by the tragic death of their oldest son. Of course, suffering from John Hughes-esque teenage angst and whatnot, the Peterson’s children Luke (Brendan Meyer) and Anna (Maika Monroe) need a little more time to adjust to perennial do-gooder David’s old-fashioned charms. 

 Luke is an intelligent yet seemingly half-autistic teenage turd who is constantly bullied at school, but when David singlehandedly beats up an entire group of jocks that regularly torment him, his self-esteem improves dramatically and he grows an almost boyish crush for the elder gentleman. 20-year-old prima donna waitress Anna is somewhat harder to please, but she creams her little pink panties after seeing David topless. When Anna’s mother forces her to bring David to a party at the home of her friend Kristen (Tabatha Shaun), the ex-commando smokes a little weed, drinks a couple brews, and even manages to screw the party host after beating up an aggressive ex-boyfriend to heckle her. At the party, David also befriends a burnout dope dealer named Craig (Joel David Moore) who he asks if he can find someone to buy illegal weapons from. David also learns that Kristen is secretly still dating her no-good drug dealer/would-be-rock star (ex)boyfriend Zeke (Chase Williamson) behind her parents' back, but the valiant war veteran agrees not to tell anyone. On the way home from their party, Anna complains about the fact that her boyfriend is a loser, so perennial gentleman David tries to cheer her up with the following cheesy compliment, “If I had a girl like you at home, I would not have gone over to the middle east and got shot at.” To display her gratitude after he sweet talks her, Anna agrees to make David a CD mix featuring a variety of synth-driven industrial groups. Of course, little does Anna realize that David will blast the same compilation while he is attempting to hunt down her and her brother Luke. 

 When David meets up with dullard drug dealer Craig and his ex-navy black market gun dealer pal, he reveals his true character by killing the two small cons and stealing the latter’s various weapons, which included a couple barrettes, a 9mm, and two grenades, among other things. Ultimately, David frames Anna’s boyfriend Zeke for the crime by planting the murder weapon in his car. David also takes the liberty of killing Spencer’s boss after hearing the patriarch complain about how he stole his job. Meanwhile, Kristen decides to do some snooping and calls the military where she learns that David apparently died the week before in a hospital fire. Using her female intuition, Anna deduces that David framed her degenerate boy toy and then reveals to her parents that their guest is supposed to be dead, but the ex-commando tells the Petersons a half-lie about being part of some top secret mission and they naturally believe him since they like him so much. Meanwhile, Anna’s call to the military base alerts an authoritarian negro military police leader named Major Carver (Lance Reddick) who is apparently looking for David and will stop at nothing to find him. Set during the holiday season, Major Carver becomes a sort of Dr. Sam Loomis to David’s Michael Myers-like character. As Carver later explains to Anna, who is certainly no Laurie Strode though she is infinitely more attractive, David was the subject of a military medical experiment of sorts to create the ultimate super soldier and he has a “neurological condition” that compels him to clean up all “loose ends” and kill anyone that might compromise the top secret project. Indeed, were it not for Anna’s snooping around and attempt to get her loser druggy beau out of prison, David would have never began brutally murdering everyone she loves. Somewhat ironically, Luke does not care when he learns that David is not the person he thought he was but instead a coldblooded killer who had plastic surgery to change his appearance and to get rid of his fingerprints. Like in virtually every slasher flick, nearly all of the characters croak in the end and the work concludes with more than enough room for a sequel. 

 If one learns anything from watching The Guest, it is that young girls will go to absurd lengths to support their delinquent doper boyfriends and ‘sensitive’ bullied teens tend to take on borderline psychopathic qualities after being called a “faggot” one too many times. Cinematically speaking, the film teaches the viewer that a sleek, stylish, and consistently enthralling film can be made by tweaking some of the most inane and insipid Hollywood film genre conventions, by featuring a handsome and charming likable mass murderer and a hopelessly stupid cutesy girl whose bad blonde hair dye jobs seem to have given her brain damage, and by having a narcotizing retro goth/industrial soundtrack. Indeed, the film surely owes a large percentage of its darkly quasi-erotic potency to its vintage score, which the majority of the American mainstream filmgoing audience has certainly never heard before. As someone who couldn't care less about the Halloween franchise (there is even a blatant homage to the ‘black sheep’ of the series, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, thus reflecting the director's unconventional interest in the horror genre), the Terminator franchise, and the various other corporate celluloid crap that the film pays playful homage to, I have to confess that The Guest is pomo pastiche that actually works in a fashion that does not make the viewer feel like they have been spiritually raped by the pernicious aesthetic plague of pop (pseudo)culture. I have to admit that the film is more thoughtful than most works of its particular celluloid breed, as director Adam Wingard does not give away as many clues and answers than the work leads the viewer to think. Indeed, there is more than enough evidence to indicate that the eponymous killing machine is, in fact, the Peterson family's dead son Caleb, though Wingard thankfully never reveals the curious character’s true identity. If one thing is for sure, it is that the titular character fights an urge not to kill the Petersons, though he seems to have no qualms about killing anyone else for the most insignificant of reasons. Unquestionably, the best compliment I can pay The Guest is that it is the first film that has ever made me question my thoughts on American independent film and a seemingly hipster filmmaker like Wingard, who seems to be the only member of his cinematic clique that has evolved as a filmmaker. Undoubtedly, it is surely an accomplishment to make metacinema entertaining and not like posturing pseudo-intellectual twaddle that is made to impress film critics and fap-happy fanboys who masturbate to the latest cover art put out by the Criterion Collection.  Indeed, if you're tired of mentally retarded slasher killers with moronic masks or aesthetically sterile autism-packed action-thrillers featuring cardboard villains and heroes and generic pseudo-neo-classical scores, you might benefit from spending a little valuable time with The Guest.

-Ty E

1 comment:

GG said...

Well, you convinced me to buy it.