It’s no secret that this writer loved Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s genre thriller The Guest. The movie was most definitely my favorite movie of 2014 and now, after what feels like an eternity, the film is available to own on Blu-ray.
We talked to Barrett and Wingard about what went into building the sexy goth-rock soundtrack as well as the influence of genre staples like John Carpenter’s Halloween and James Cameron’s The Terminator. But while creating the character of “David,” the writer-director duo realized how far horror archetypes have come and what makes them scary to modern audiences. Specifically: the male antihero.
Wingard explained, “I guess one of the main points of that is the genesis of the project really came from, Simon and I had both read this book called Shock Value, which is a deconstruction of 70s and 80s horror films following the relationships of Dan O’Bannon, mainly, and John Carpenter, and the way that they went their separate ways and reshaped the face of horror, literally. What that book does brilliantly is breaks down the way that people found things scary in that era and the way that the faceless horror became the new terror. So you had Michael Meyers who is the ominous [figure] literally called ‘The Shape’ because there’s no defining features with him. He blends in but there’s no defining characteristics of his humanity, a very Lovecraftian face–also Alien as well. You can’t really tell what you’re looking at when you look at the alien. I remember watching that for the first time spending the whole movie trying to find his eyes and it doesn’t register in the same way. Fast forward a couple decades and those are still the things that people are basing everything on and I don’t know that that’s definitely scary so much any more because we’ve seen so much of that.”
Barrett elaborated, “It’s just an interesting kind of cultural thing there that there is this weird rise in TV especially and antiheroes with Bryan Cranston’s character [on Breaking Bad] and Steve Buscemi’s character [on Boardwalk Empire] and every single character out right now.”
Wingard continues, “I feel like antiheroes have come and gone in different incantations. Like in the 70s, I felt like the version of the antihero [was] the Gene Hackman, French Connection, sleazed out, depressed kind of guy… And I think that’s kind of changing the definition of that and evolving in a bunch of different ways.”
“I wonder if that’s based on a cultural guilt,” says Barrett. “I wonder if we [look to] antiheroes in periods like the 70s with Vietnam and now after the Iraq war and after America has collectively –”
Wingard agreed, “Yeah, because we’re all conflicted and kind of ashamed but at the same time we still ‘support the troops–‘”
“Yeah! Because we’re like, ‘Sorry about ruining the world…’ and Walter White is the perfect encapsulation of that so I feel like there’s kind of a societal thing going on with the rise of that,” Barrett concluded.
While the antihero in film and television has progressed over the years, one thing that was consistent about the inspirations for the character — “The Shape” from Halloween and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator — is that they are both arguably physically imposing creatures. When casting the role of David, how did they first envision him? Was it initially important for them to find an actor who was physically threatening? Not at all, according to Barrett and Wingard. “The personality was more important,” says screenwriter Barrett. “I mean, going back to what I just mentioned, if he was built like The Rock it’s kind of hard to imagine the family saying, ‘Please come stay with us, big giant muscle person!’ And it was kind of important that he feel very normal and that was what we wanted to play with. So physicality didn’t matter as much, we just wanted him to be very attractive to them and the degree to which he was intimidating or imposing would be sold more through his actions than his actual physical build. That was at least the way it was written and we did end up very much going in that direction.”
Wingard agreed. “Yeah, if he were huge or something it would be a little less interesting to me, to be honest. It’s more interesting that you think that he’s charming and nice and kind and that he has this dark undercurrent, because really at the end of the day the movie is more about the relationships of the characters than it is about the action and all of the danger built in within that. And so I think it would have been a big mistake to cast for that type of thing.
Barrett added, “Yeah, it would have been a little bit … not subtle.”
The Guest, starring Dan Stevens, written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, is available on VOD and Blu-ray now.