Chris Kirby’s review published on Letterboxd:
The coolest movie of 2014. Full stop.
The Guest is a horror film shot like an action film. The direct contradiction in filmmaking styles presents the movie with a very distinct feel that adds a polished sheen to the proceedings. Think 2011's Drive and how it played with its action scenes to make them not very action-y yet still carry the excitement and tension. The film itself is a fresh take on The Stranger horror film. It's not exactly a fresh take in its storyline, Adam Wingard doesn't twist up the formula to do something wacky or meta or anything or that sort. This is very straight forward in that regard. It's all in the execution of the film itself.
The glossy sheen, the smooth confident pacing, Dan Stevens, and the soundtrack. All of these things work together to create something so incredibly fun and cool that the film feels like a breath of fresh air. Dan Stevens plays the titular Guest, an army veteran who has finally returned home and goes to visit his deceased battle-buddy's family in order to honor his friend's last wishes. Once he arrives, David begins to become accepted by the family. He helps each of them in personal areas where they need help. The younger son who gets bullied is given confidence to stand up for himself, the daughter who hangs with the wrong crowd get a little more self-respect, etc. However, something's not right with David.
The film doesn't treat the fact that something is wrong with David like a secret. The film is extremely open about the fact that David is not who he appears to be and is more than a little crazy and dangerous. The makes the transition to when the film gets crazy very smooth and not feel like a cheat "twist". Dan Stevens just oozes charisma through the screen so every interaction he has with the other characters is incredibly believable because he's just so cool. Yet we know not to love him, something's not right. What that something is actually comes as a weird little surprise but it doesn't function as a crux to the film. I also love the fact that the film doesn't provide any explanation by film's end! Do we need to fully understand every little aspect? Fuck no. Any additional knowledge gained from understanding every tiny detail would not change the film itself. It would not do anything to modify the way the film plays out in the finale, it would not add anything to the film itself or the characters within it. The only thing that small piece of exposition would provide is finality so people won't complain that the film "doesn't explain anything!" At one point in the film David says briefly that there's not time to explain. That's entirely correct, there is no time to stop and dump exposition that would not improve the film in any way. We are going full force at this point and it was an incredibly wise and cheeky choice for Wingard and Barrett to make. I commend this decision.
This is a very modern film. Wingard and Barrett just sat down and made very tense thriller out of a standard horror film and rock the camera something fierce. Then there's the soundtrack. The soundtrack is full on 80s retro-synth and it adds a whole new level of cool to the movie. The film never tries to be retro, it leaves that to the music and boy oh boy, is it ever good. The music transforms the film by giving the entire picture a retro feel. It makes the film exist in a strange place, again like 2011's Drive. The music is so good too! I downloaded the soundtrack on my phone when I was only 45 minutes into the movie. I didn't give a fuck, I needed the soundtrack. So good. The music also transforms the cool of the movie into something transcendentally cool. The only example I'll bring up in this defense is the final sequence. The whole final sequence is among my favorite scenes in cinema this year. There's so much atmosphere and dread and fog and smoke and perfect camera angles and fear and tension and then that fucking soundtrack thumps through the whole thing and oh my dear sweet baby jesus...I had a figurative erection.
I love the 80s, I really do. The Guest soaks in everything that is cool about 80s retrospective but never tries to imitate that era of filmmaking. The film resides in its own space and is the epitome of cool. I've mentioned Drive a couple of times. The Guest is not as good as Drive, few things in this world are as good as Drive, but it carries that same sense of excitement and coolness. The Guest is so unique in how it executes its really standard plot that I even think that people who disliked You're Next will enjoy The Guest. The two films could not be more different. I loved You're Next but The Guest is on a whole other tier. I just want to watch this movie over and over again to soak in its everything. I am very excited for what Wingard and Barrett do after this and I can't wait to watch Dan Stevens in more things. I didn't even get into talking about the overall cast! They're all great and I love them all. Heck, the fucking movie has one of my all-time faves, Ethan Embry, in a bit role. It's all just so cool and perfect.