The Guest

Guest poster here to helpAn 80’s B movie influenced thriller with horror elements from Your Next (2011) director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. The Guest is a big departure for Downton’s Dan Stevens as “David” a soldier returning from duty who stops to pass on a message to the family of his dead comrade. David claims to have instructions to look after the Petersons, but the still grieving family are letting themselves in for more than they bargained for by letting David into their home and lives.
The Guest is a mixed bag of genres with about 2/3 small town thriller and 1/3 slasher movie. The initial suspense surrounding David’s intentions trickles away quickly as bad things start happening to the films supporting characters. The lack of tension is made up for with heaps of visual style, although personally I am a bit sick of pink and blue as a color scheme, (Only God Forgives, Hummingbird, Drive) however Wingard  couples this with an impressive and innovative soundtrack which elevates proceeding to what can only be described as ‘modern Argento,’ where visuals and sound combine to create a surrealist, dream like atmosphere.
adam solidierThe most interesting thing about The Guest is that despite the sinister aspects of David’s presence in the home David actually brings something important to each individual family member. For the mother he fills the position in the family left by her dead son. This is of course also what initially unsettles daughter Anna and her father. Mr Peterson is quickly won around as he needs someone who can act as a soundboard for his inadequacies in the work place. David is happy to sit silently and drink beer with him. David teaches the Peterson’s son Luke who is bullied at school self defense (or maybe self preservation) Thinking that he has found a ‘friend’ Luke is perfectly happy to become a mini David. Anna is harder to convince. She is suspicious of David from the start. At a party David attempts to win her over by assimilating with her friends, partaking in recreational drug use, and when he drives her home he tells her that he likes her taste in music and wants her to make him a mix tape.
the guest halloween influences
It is clear that each family member is lonely and needs someone that they can confide in who will listen without judging. (This is a fascinating comment on a society where whole groups of people can have a conversation where everyone is talking about themselves but no one is listening, just waiting for the next cue to speak) We could perhaps presume that the dead older son used to fulfill that role (or perhaps not) either way the families lines of communication are broken and each individual is quick to put feelings of what might be called intuition to one side in exchange for what David offers them. When Anna is making her playlist we can see that she is starting to fall hard for David. But the next day she overhears him talking mysteriously on his phone and her suspicion is reignited. Things must come to a head.
anna and lukeI get the impression that David on some level does genuinely care about the family , and wants to make things better for them, but he is also driven to react in the way he does by forces beyond his control. David is an emotionless character (played brilliantly by Stevens) so it is hard to say whether things, like desire, are things he feels or things that others project onto him. This is illustrated by his sex scene . When he sleeps with Anna’s friend Kristen she suggests that he isn’t into it and then all of a sudden he becomes very ‘passionate.’
THE GUESTAnna is a very restrained person like David is. At one point we see her on a set of swings with her boyfriend. She is reluctant to show emotion about her dead brother and pulls away when her boyfriend tries to show her physical affection. Anna and David seem to share a connection deeper than with the rest of her family, even the girl he sleeps with means nothing to him. The emotional psyche of the characters is played out through the films soundtrack choices with a host of songs about whether or not people are sharing genuine emotions. Even at the end after some truly terrible things have happened it is as if Anna and Davis still share their connection.
The GuestThe Guest is disjointed and is intense rather than tense, but I enjoyed it in spite of or maybe because of these reasons. The film didn’t quite grab me around the throat in the way that Your Next did, but I am still thinking about the deeper meaning of the piece which is an important quality for a film to have. Wingard is good with actors and, in partnership with Barrett, he is very competent with bringing out the intimate family drama in a piece as well as some really great moments of black comedy. If there is anything that bothers me its that I would love to watch a film from Wingard solely based on the last sequence of The Guest because as a concept for a slasher film it was so tantalising. But I suppose it is best not to get pigeonholed.
guest david halloweenThe Guest is also filled with some great references to classic films as well as Wingard and Barrett’s earlier work. The Guest is set in the run up to Halloween, so for much of the time it looks like the set of a Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) sequel, (preferably to six) there are a couple of references to Halloween 3, at one point we see some of the extras wearing the animal masks from Your Next, and there is a great cameo near the end from AJ Bowen. When Anna’s boyfriend gets arrested and her father wont listen to her it is reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street, (Wes Craven, 1984) and the horror maze at the end is very the Man With the Golden Gun. Plus the android in Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012) is also called David and the UK trailer for The Guest was definitely riffing on the Prometheus viral ads for David 8.
All in all The Guest is a very fascinating and enjoyable movie, I am glad it got a wide release, and I look forward to seeing what Wingard and his team come up with next.



You’re Next

For the full experience listen to the tune below while you read, that is if you can stop yourself from getting up and dancing!

You’re Next, and I can’t believe I’m saying this so close to my review of The Conjuring last week, is one of the most entertaining horror films I have seen in a long time. I had started to resign myself to the idea that I was only likely to see one genuinely well made scary movie every couple of years (it’s been a long decade) and then a film like this comes along and blows me away. And its a slasher, when was the last time you saw a genuinely good slasher film? I’ll let you think about that one for a while.
largeYou’re Next starts with some nudity and a couple of gruesome killings perpetrated by a man with a white animal mask in a lonely house in the middle of nowhere. We are then gradually introduced to a large grown-up family consisting of mother, father, offspring and significant others, who are all converging on the family’s isolated country house for a meal to celebrate their parents wedding anniversary. After meeting girlfriends/boyfriends for the first time and pleasantries are out of the way the family sits down to dinner where tensions and rivalries erupt into a full blown argument which is only interrupted when arrows start flying through the window. Under siege, family members must put differences aside to try and escape this high stress situation alive, something which is easier for some than for others.
youre_next_bloodYou’re Next is directed by American film-maker Adam Wingard, but (in my opinion) is heavily influenced by Scandinavian cinema and film-makers such as Thomas Vinterberg, and Niels Arden Oplev (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, 2009) I mentioned in my commentary on the trailer that Lions Gate released for the film that You’re Next looks, based on aesthetics and subject matter, as though it could be an American re-make of Festen (1998) (until the blood starts flowing) Watching the full film I found that this statement stands up. You’re Next is centred around a large family with a dysfunctional dynamic, in a large house filled with secrets which seems to be one of the preoccupations of Danish and Swedish cinema. You’re Next also owes a debt to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) which is fairly self evident, and a large number of recent similarly styled films own the same debt. This is not to say that You’re Next is unoriginal, it’s influences serve to elevate it’s resonance above that of other ‘wanna be’ home invasion movies. (The Purge being the most recent disappointing example)
youre next posterSo let’s paint a family portrait. Mum and dad (Barbera Crampton from Re-Animator fame and Rob Moran) are typical upper crust American white folks, Mr Davison works for a large defence contractor, and is on the brink of retirement, and Mrs Davison is a high strung neurotic, fearful of confrontation and desperately hoping for unity between her offspring. Then we have Crispian (AJ Bowen from House of the Devil 2009) the underwhelmed middle son who is introducing new girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) to the family for the first time. Crispian feels the family’s expectations weighing heavily on his shoulders and warns Erin that the family reunion may not be the harmonious event that she might be expecting. Next to arrive are Drake (Joe Swanberg, actor/director from V/H/S)and Kelly (Margaret Laney), Drake seems to be the older son (although we never know for sure) and takes great pleasure in ingratiation himself with him parents at any opportunity, especially if it is at Crispian’s expense.  Then there is daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz) who strives to stand out in a family of brothers, and her boyfriend Tariq (Ti West director of House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, 2011 in an inspired cameo that I thought was brilliant, although Murry thought it was a bit self conscious) who receives dinner table flack for stating that he is a film-maker, and then admitting to having only screened one film at an underground documentary festival. (“Do they show the films underground” Drake asks provocatively) And finally there is youngest son Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn) who want people to think that they are above the pretensions of a class based society but when it comes down to it are entirely self obsessed.
So there you have it; when did you last see a horror with quite so much detailed character development? It’s a rarity. The first half of You’e Next is very much an ensemble picture, then, as events become more intense, Erin becomes our primary focus towards the end of the film. Overall the film is carried by the great performances brought by every member of the cast.
YOURE_NEXT_01143813.jpgYou’re Next is as much a slasher as a home invasion movie, because the audience is encouraged to think about why this is all happening and who could be behind it. Writer Simon Barrett gives us plenty of possible clues to go on; the father works for a defence contractor, the assailants wear animal masks and hunt the family, the neighbours are also targeted by the gang. We are also given a number of red herrings and a healthy dose of misdirection. This is a film with a twist (I guessed two thirds of it before the reveal) but the motive is less than obvious so the reveal/s is/are successful in terms of keeping the majority or people guessing, and yet still standing up to scrutiny. I have already seen You’re Next twice (once with Murry, and the second time with Murry, Moleman, Bennett and Cordelia) and I am please to say that the film entirely stands up to a second viewing. Every jigsaw piece fits perfectly in place in a fashion that even The Sixth Sense would be proud of, but with no need for a cheesy flashback.
YOURE_NEXT_01281307.jpgIf I have a couple of small gripes about the film (and I mean small, because this is a film well worth viewing) they would only really be with the start and the end. Although there are no overt spoilers written here, if you want to protect your self from the smallest chance of guessing at the ending you may want to skip down to the last paragraph dear reader! My first issue would be that during the opening a female character walks around topless in a room with a glass wall. While the nudity is done reasonably tastefully, and while many women may well choose to walk around topless in their own homes, it seems unlikely that they would do so if they had a glass wall in their house.
ErinSecondly, and this is slightly more major, the ending of the film I found a little disappointing. The build up to the ending was immense, Erin is an impressively strong female character who knows what it takes to survive and knows how to lead people. I had a few ideas on where I wanted the plot to go, sadly we didn’t quite get there. I got the feeling that the film-makers lost their nerve at the last moment. While this did not effect the film/plot overall, nor the enjoyment of the audience who all left the screen in a state of excitement, my feeling was that the ending served to undermine Erin’s strength of character at the last moment. Up until then You’re Next had given us a breathtakingly impressive modern take on the final girl not seen since the Sidney Prescott years.
Also Hitchcock’s famous ticking time bomb theory is put to good use here with an axe rigged to a door, people were genuinely panicking about this in the cinema, but when the axe falls it is on (in my view) the wrong person so it ends up feeling kind of gimmicky. Although I will say that the panic felt by the audience is in no doubt a testament to the touching ‘romance’ depicted between Erin and Crispian which we all desperately clung on too in between blood spatters.
But don’t let any of that phase you, You’re Next is about a thousand times better than anything else on offer recently and everything that goes on in between is pure heaven, or pure hell depending on how you want to look at it. The film as a piece feels vital and full of camaraderie and dynamism. This is probably down to the unusual number film-makers taking on acting roles, and previous collaborators banding together to take things up a level. After forcing everyone I know to watch it all I have heard are good things and I have every intention of watching it again.


I have been meaning to write a new trailer trash for a while, but I suppose I have been waiting for something to come along and really excite me, after the huge anticlimax that was the Evil Dead remake. So it is fortuitous that in the coming months (I am classing Summer here as July to September) there are not one but two films scheduled for release that contain some of my favourite film, crew and cast elements, but more of that to come, first things first…


Frozen-Ground-PosterLet’s start with a trip down memory lane. On release in the UK from today Frozen Ground seems to be following the recent trend for films that look like they were made 10 years ago, not that I am complaining per say, I was hugely over excited to see Olympus Has Fallen (Antonie Fuqua, 2013) for example because I was practically brought up on spurious, 90’s, hyper action/disaster films like Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994) and Daylight (Rob Cohen, 1996). Film flashbacks  like The Internship (Shawn Levy, 2013) on the other hand I would be glad to see confined to the annals of cinema history. But Frozen Ground, perhaps mainly because it stars John Cusack and Nic Cage, seems more akin  to 90’s/00’s serial killer vs detective procedurals like Kiss The Girls (Gary Fleder, 1997) and Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, 2002). Although this means that Frozen Ground cannot really be classified as a horror film and therefore might seem out of place in my line up of summer blood letting, I am perfectly happy to go out on a limb and watch a film like this because often they couple some genuinely chilling moments with a more detailed characterisation that ‘out and out’ horror films often lack. Frozen ground, the début of director Scott Walker, is based on real events surrounding the attempt to capture real life serial killer Robert Hansen in Alaska in the 1980’s. As of a huge fan of Fincher’s Zodiac (2007) and am always on the look out for a film that might equal its mysterious fascination, Frozen Ground seems unlikely to be that film, as it looks from the trailer to be pretty standard stuff, although Nic Cage has said in the press that he hopes it will be seen as a sensitive homage to Hansen’s victims.

THE CONJURING – 02/08/13

The-Conjuring-posterI am so excited about The Conjuring that I could jump up and down and race around the room right now (but I wont) The Conjuring is from director James Wan who brought us the first Saw (2004), which despite its many sequels was an original and exciting movie, and Insidious (2010) which is one of the most terrifying horror films I have ever watched. The Conjuring is actually based on a ‘true story,’ much like The Amityville Horror (Stuart Rosenberg, 1979), a young family move into a new house without realising that terrible things have happened there, and are driven to calling in famous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, portrayed here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. There are a couple of versions of this trailer but the most interesting by far is the trailer below, which contains interviews with members of the real family who’s experiences the film is based around cut with scenes from the film. Not only does The Conjuring seem to take a fascinating look at ideas surrounding the paranormal, and paranormal investigation techniques, but having seen all three trailer versions I am pleased to see that The Conjuring promises to be spine tinglingly terrifying.

YOU’RE NEXT – 30/08/13

you-re-next-posterA car drives along a path and pulls up in front of a large country house, family members hug and snap photos, then sit down around a large dinning table for a family meal. The slight Scandinavian look to the décor and setting lead us almost to believe that we are about to watch an American remake of Thomas Vinterburg’s Dogma 95 film Festen (1998), that is until assailants dressed as wild animals start slicing and dicing the family with hunting weapons to the sounds of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day. It look like this slasher by director Adam Wingard will explore themes like the hunter becoming the hunted, and the American family surviving alone on the great wild frontier. The trailer is well put together, and engaging, seducing you into wanting to watch it. My only concern would be that there is no dialogue in the trailer, which is hopefully not a sign that they are trying to mask (no pun intended) some poor performances. There is a nice amount of shots of the ‘animals’ in their masks which hopefully means that You’re Next will be the kind of movie I had hoped The Purge (2013) would be.


insidious2posterSo the other reason to be cheerful this summer, besides the blistering sunshine, is that not only is The Conjuring directed by James Wan and starring Patrick Wilson, but so is Insidious Chapter 2. Yes that’s right, Insidious is back and this time it’s personal. You may remember that in the first movie Josh Lambert managed to save his son from the clutches of the demon (In a scene that owes a hell of a lot to Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982)) but when he returned he was not quite the same i.e. quite probably possessed. So Chapter 2 looks to be a rip roaring ride through what really happened at the end of the last film and why. All the old favourites are back; Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, and back writing as well as acting horror genius Leigh Whannel. Some audiences misunderstood the first Insidious, I (who watched it alone in one of the almost definitely haunted screens of my local cinema) am in no doubt that it is one of the most well written, well made, and, well, genuinely scary horror films of the last  five years. Only time will tell as to weather Chapter 2 will live up to the expectations left by the original. On a lighter note there are a few little nods to Saw here and there, which are always fun to try and spot.