America is a country that constantly seems to be on the brink of war. Whether it's a war in the middle east, a cold war, a war on drugs, or a war on terror. It's clear war is something we breed into our culture. The press usually perpetuates the blood lust, often preaching ideals to stop war, while simultaneously invoking it. Children of today have grown numb to the violence they see on the news, but for the soldiers being trained to enter the battlefield, it's very real. In some cases soldiers are left mentally scarred and develop PTSD, otherwise known as post traumatic stress disorder. Now what happens when something like that goes unchecked? The film I'm discussing today dives head first into that concept. The Guest is a film that was released in September of last year, but it has just now made it's way to Netflix. The release on Netflix has garnered a lot of views, and the film is quickly becoming a personal favorite of many cinemaphiles. Since I missed the initial release, which I believe was only at a few select theaters, I just now saw the film. I am confident in saying that The Guest is one of the best movies to come out this year, and far surpasses some of the mega franchise blockbuster films that have come out this summer. The film was written Simon Barrett and Directed by Adam Wingard. It stars Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, and notable character actor Leland Orser. The Guest is a surprisingly chilling thriller that resembles eerie stalker films like The Stepfather, Copycat, and FEAR. Not only does it resemble those kinds of films, but I believe it takes ideas from those films and makes them even creepier.
The Guest is about a young soldier who travels to the hometown of a dead friend and decides to visit the friend's family. The solider's name is David (Stevens) and he claims to have been apart of the same platoon as the family's dead son. At first this news completely shatters the mother but soon after she invites David into their home. The mother introduces David to the rest of the family, and he begins to bond with all of them. Since the parents lost their child, they are very happy to see someone else in the house. The mother often cries in private, and the father drinks heavily, so it's clear the death of their son is still heavy on their minds. David consuls the family and starts becoming a surrogate soldier son of sorts. David is about as clean cut, intelligent, and confident as a man could get. He oozes sex appeal whenever he is around females, and most males are instantly intimidated by his bravado. He is essentially the man every dude wants to be, and the guy every woman wants to fall in love with.
The parents have two children, a young son named Luke (Meyer), and a 20 year old daughter named Anna (Monroe). The son is a sophomore in high school and the daughter is a rebellious waitress with a hint of white trash. David instantly connects with both of them and proves throughout the film that he has a special interest in them. David helps Luke overcome his fear of high school bullies, which proves to dramatically help Luke's confidence. David also plays the hero whenever he sees a woman being harassed, or something he considers immoral. You really grow to appreciate the man David seems to be...until he shows you another side. Without giving away any major spoilers, the film takes a dramatic turn once you find out more about the REAL David. David has a Pandora's box of secrets and he slowly reveals them one by one. David slowly reveals through a series of unsettling acts, that he is suffering from some type of psychosis. I believe this is where the director was trying to show the effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how someone experiencing immense amounts of isolation and military training, may return home a changed man.
The film highlights how PTSD can affect a former soldier, but it also highlights how the death of soldiers can also affect families. The father (Orser) has a massive drinking problem and often finds himself mumbling through sentences full of frustration. The mother seems to be the rock of the family, but you can tell her family is slowly growing apart. Each member of the family seems to have their own story and dynamic, which adds a lot of emotion and tension to the film. You are really rooting for this family to find some sense of peace, whether it's through David or something else. The government also finds it's way into the story and the film introduces the idea of brainwashing soldiers, which has been a questionable real life practice for decades. The film seems to hit all the right beats with it's story telling, whilst simultaneously being an allegory for PTSD.
It's clear that the storytelling is strong, but the aspect of the film that really sold me was the amazing soundtrack. This film has one of the best soundtracks ever. That's right, I said it. It doesn't feature any epic Robocop scores or anything orchestral, but it has a lot of great melodic tech-noir tunes that flow like water through each scene. There is also a particularly violent moment that features a totally absurd love song, and it adds a nice cheese factor to the film. Just cementing the insanity taking place. I'm tempted to say the film's soundtrack is so good that it overshadows the film, but thankfully it just rides the line. The soundtrack and lighting throughout the film resembles the likes of DRIVE and Only God Forgives, so if you enjoy the somber techno vibes in those films, I think this could be a good choice for you. You may also spot some pretty neat easter eggs throughout the film, including the Halloween masks used in John Carpenter's Halloween III, but I won't spoil which scene they are in. Regardless, it's clear the filmmakers have a big appreciation for 80's filmmaking. It pays off and results in the perfect suspense movie.