The Guest – Film Review

The Guest

The Peterson family are mourning the loss of their son in Afghanistan when a stranger comes to call. David (Dan Stevens) claims to have been a friend of their fallen family member who has come to check that they are all OK. It isn’t long before he has won over the whole family with his charm, intensity, and toplessness. The only person not so keen is rebellious daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) who senses that something is not right with David and that he may not be what he claims…

I imagine you can guess whether Anna is right or not.

The Guest is a thriller… of sorts. It is certainly thrilling but this is not a film where you gasp in horror when someone is killed or in danger. Instead you laugh loudly, punch the air, and shovel yet more popcorn into your chuckling face. The aim of the game here is to have fun and not take the film, or David, too seriously. While working within the confines of a horror/thriller writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard are doing so with a wry smile and seemingly a desire to entertain rather than scare their audience.

Whenever David does something a little unusual, something to indicate he isn’t the perfect houseguest but possibly a maniac, it is done with an arched eyebrow to ensure we know it’s only a bit of fun. The Guest so desperately doesn’t want to be taken seriously that every scene comes complete with a metaphorical wink or nudge to indicate that the film has its tongue firmly in its cheek.

The Guest - Maika Monroe

The film starts slow and calm but events gradually escalate towards an explosive, dry-ice, mirror maze conclusion with no real resolution. It is when the film is at its most fantastical that the earlier, almost sarcastic, tone makes sense. If the first two acts were to be taken seriously the film would be a taut thriller ending in a mismatched Die Hard finale. As it is the whole feature feels like a bit of a joke so when guns start blazing (and they do) and grenades start rolling (and they do) it all feels perfectly logical. Whether this mix of genre and tone works for you or not depends wholly on how happy you are to enjoy the film as a piece of satire or whether you want it to stand up to closer scrutiny as a film in its own right.

Dan Stevens is perfectly fine as the mysterious antagonist though the role of emotionless Übermensch may not be much of a stretch acting-wise. More work has been done on his accent and body with one transformed into a low American growl and the other a lean, buff physique. Any roundness from Stevens’ Downton Abbey days is long gone and fans will enjoy the entirely plot-centric/gratuitous topless scene. Do not fear misogynists as the film also has Maika Monroe who never seems to wear anything but thigh high socks or stockings. Something for the whole family. To ogle.

The Guest succeeds in being the barrel of fun it wants to be but isn’t as satisfying in the long-term. With David being such an enjoyable sociopath to watch I wasn’t sure if we were rooting for him or for final girl Anna. When the grand showdown comes down to the two of them, and her brother Luke (Brendan Meyer), your emotional response needs someone to cheer for.

Unfortunately when you spend all your time with your tongue in your cheek, winking with one eye, a raised eyebrow, wry smile, and a frantically nudging elbow you are going to come across as a little odd. What The Guest has in spades is excitement and amusement but it then unfortunately lacks in being a true horror or thriller.

A heck of a lot of fun though.

Good, not great, The Guest is in UK cinemas this Friday.

Out Now – 29th August 2014

Obvious Child

Let’s Be Cops
One third of the cast of New Girl star in an appalling looking comedy about two guys who pretend to be cops. That’s it, there’s your plot.

As Above, So Below
A team of explorers go poking around underneath Paris and find all manner of spooky goings on near the gates to hell. When I visited Paris I was satisfied with a trip up the Eiffel Tower but each to their own.

If I Stay
Emotional book adaptation that doesn’t star Shailene Woodley, where were you Shailene?! A girl is forced to decide whether to live or die during an out-of-body experience. Her body is in a coma while her spirit does sufficient acting to fill a feature film.

Night Moves
Dull and uninspiring thriller about three environmentalists who want to blow up a dam and do so. The characters and emotions were a little too subtle for me and what some might fight brooding I found boring. Some reviewers bloody loved it so what do I know?

Million Dollar Arm
Jon Hamm goes to India in search of future baseball stars and instead finds out that people can be valuable in ways that don’t generate millions of dollars. A two-hour Disney sports movie. Eeesh. An American in India! Whatever next!

The Grand Seduction
A small island has to convince an American doctor to stay so that they can build a factory or some such nonsense. Confusingly the island in the trailer appears to be in Ireland but is in fact in Newfoundland which is some kind of Canadian island filled with English, Irish, French, and Scottish immigrants. I’m baffled.

Mystery Road
Australian thriller in which an “indigenous detective returns to the Outback to investigate the murder of a young girl.” I’ve heard good things and Australian crime dramas are so hot right now.

Obvious Child
The best decision you could make at the cinema this week would be buying a ticket to see this gem. To quote myself; “I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed Obvious Child. It is the rarest of cinematic creatures; a romantic comedy that has something to say.” Prepare to love Jenny Slate and wonder why more films can’t be about real women.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
German 1920s horror about one scary piece of furniture. Probably the first horror film every made this is the direct root of every scream you have released whilst in the dark cocoon of the cinema.

The Guvnors
“The Guvnors is a violent thriller set amongst the clans and firms of South East London, bringing two generations together in brutal conflict.” As I currently live in South East London I prefer to not watch any films that aim to highlight the constant peril I am living in. Admittedly my life is less like a violent thriller and more like an episode of Spaced with gentler pace.

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
“The story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life at the age of 26.”

Obvious Child – Film Review

Obvious Child

Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is twenty-something young woman whose life slowly unravels after a successful stand-up gig when her boyfriend unceremoniously breaks up with her in the toilet. With her romantic life in tatters Donna turns to booze for solace and after crashing and burning on stage finds herself in bed with the overly sweet Max (Jake Lacy). One evening of poor contraceptive application later and woman-child Donna is with child. Accepting that she is in no position to have a baby Donna decides to have an abortion but one question remains; should she tell Max?

Obvious Child is a lot of things. It is hilarious. It is sweet. It is important. It is filthy. It is real. It is strident. It is subtle. It is probably the best comedy you will see this year. What Obvious Child is not is an “abortion comedy”. Abortion is not treated in a trivial way and is certainly not the most important element of the film but with abortion being such a heavily debated topic it is the aspect that has been discussed the most. Let’s get that out of the way for now. Obvious Child doesn’t glorify or condemn abortion but simply seeks to show it as a valid choice, something Knocked Up didn’t even consider. From the reaction of female audience members, that of gratitude and tears, this simple treatment of a serious issue is an important step forwards.

As I said before Obvious Child is not actually about the abortion but is about Donna’s relationships with her parents, her friends, her Max, and mostly her relationship with herself. This is the story of a woman finding the strength inside to take control of her life and not just coast through situations. This is a story about friendship, love, and actually listening to the advice your parents try to offer you. Donna is surrounded by a wonderful support network and her falling highlights how happy they are there to catch her. It is also important to note that Donna ultimately saves herself and while romance is a potential outcome it is not the love of a good man that serves as her goal.

Obvious Child - Jenny Slate & Jake Lacy

This might make it all seem a little too serious or worthy but let me tell you that from its opening scene, one of Donna performing stand-up, Obvious Child is ridiculously funny. I have a habit of hooting when a joke makes me lose my self-control and reveal my true laugh and I let out a few too many hoots while watching Jenny Slate give her career-defining performance. Though many modern romantic comedies are filled with unrelatable characters and situations Obvious Child is steeped in reality and all the muck and laughter that comes with it. For the time you spend watching the film Donna is your best friend; she makes you laugh, she makes you cry, and you desperately want her to get her shit together. She’s not perfect but she is far too much fun to be around for this to matter.

As for the romantic side of things let’s just say that Jake Lacy’s Max will be on everyone’s Christmas lists this year. Max manages to be the ideal man and remain human by simply being nice and fun to be around. The idea of a film featuring an abortion may not sound like a romantic classic but rest assured that Obvious Child wouldn’t be the worst choice for a date movie. Unless you’re Todd Palin of course.

If nothing else Obvious Child is a showcase for previously uncelebrated talent from the dramatic and comedic prowess of Slate to the writing and direction of Gillian Robespierre. Robespierre has an eye for unobstructive direction and writes dialogue, with co-writers Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm, that feels real enough to be non-fiction.

I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed Obvious Child. It is the rarest of cinematic creatures; a romantic comedy that has something to say and says it in a way that will make you laugh unattractively.

A must-see Obvious Child is in UK cinemas from tomorrow.

Out Now – 22nd August 2014

Deliver Us from Mild Concern

What If
Good not great romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan that can’t quite reach the heights of (500) Days of Summer to which it aspires as it fails to cast aside the genre tropes it so desperately wants to distance itself from. I saw it. I enjoyed it. I probably won’t buy the DVD.

Into the Storm
A film relying heavily so heavily on the spectacle of the titular storm it doesn’t worry itself too much with things like plot, character, and the audience’s enjoyment. I saw it. I disliked it. I definitely won’t buy the DVD.

Lucy
A silly sci-fi thriller in which Scarlett Johansson becomes superhuman and evolves into a higher being over the course of ninety frenetic minutes. I totally understand if you do not enjoy the film as much as I did and realise that if I watch it again I will disagree with myself but my gut instinct was to give it five stars. I saw it. I LOVED IT. I don’t dare ever see it again.

Deliver Us from Evil
Eric Bana stars as a New York cop forced to team up with an exorcist to combat a spate of possessions across the city. To put this film in context Mark Wahlberg turned down the lead role. Imagine a film that Wahlberg doesn’t want to be in. I haven’t seen it. I might stream it one day for the sake of Joel McHale.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Nine years ago Sin City was cutting edge, edgy, and on edge. Back for a second outing will it still pack the same punch? The reviews say no. In fact the reviews all say two things; the film is awful and Eva Green is naked a lot. Therefore anyone who subsequently sees the film is doing so purely to see Eva Green naked. The film opens in London today and the rest of the UK later in the week. I haven’t seen it. I will never admit to having seen it.

Two Days, One Night
Marion Cotillard stars as a young woman who must persuade her work colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. Critics are positively gushing about this latest feature from the Dardenne brothers. I haven’t seen it. I definitely will.

God Help the Girl
Imagine the lead singer from Belle and Sebastian wrote an indie drama set in Scotland and starring Emily Browning. IT EXISTS! You did it all with the power of your imagination! I haven’t seen it. I will at some point down the road.

Charulata / The Lonely Wife
Re-release of the 1964 Indian romantic drama about a woman who fall in love with her cousin-in-law. I have not seen it. I am bored with this joke now.

The Police Officer’s Wife
“Add a Plot”

Art Party
“Part documentary, part road movie and part political fantasy, The Art Party! feature film captures the spirit of the Scarborough conference held in November 2013; championing the importance of art and its place in education and modern politics. A kaleidoscopic mix of performance, artist interviews and imagined scenes.” I have no idea.