The Guest, the new thriller from You’re Next and V/H/S director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett is in theaters now. The film stars Dan Stevens as “David”, a young soldier who returns from service in Iraq to find the family of one of his fallen comrades. As inferred by both the title and the trailer, things with “David” aren’t exactly as they appear.
While Wingard and Barrett have always been ambitious with their movies, the pair doesn’t shy away from genre blending, The Guest is, without a doubt, their most successful feature to date and is also, without a doubt, my favorite movie of the year so far. I can’t explain why The Guest works but the Halloween/ Terminator hybrid is funny, tense, moody, smart, thrilling, well-acted and a total blast. I had the opportunity to speak with Wingard and Barrett about the inspiration for the film, having the bad guy be the protagonist and casting breakout star Dan Stevens in the lead role.
Director Adam Wingard has been outspoken about the influence of journalist Jason Zinoman’s book on horror cinema, Shock Value, was on The Guest. Wingard shared that sentiment, explaining how two of his favorite movies made an impact. Said Wingard, “I was having this double feature of watching The Terminator and Halloween back to back, just revisiting some of my favorites one night, and not only did I realize that those movies personify the type of movie I want to make I also love the idea of making a Halloween movie that is like an inverted Michael Meyers. Instead of it being this ominous shape that’s always in the shadows, it’s the exact opposite. It’s the guy that’s good looking and friendly and you’re friends with him and he lives in your house but there’s something kind of – there’s still something ominous about him because you actually never know what he’s thinking at any point in the film. But at the end of the day my initial pitch was, because the way Simon and I work is, you know, in terms of the story aspects my part really ends just in terms of talking to Simon about the type of film I want to make, and in the case of The Guest, I was like essentially what if Michael Meyers was The Terminator, and I pitched him more like kind of an android thing and Simon was able to take that and kind of take that and ground it more.”
When I asked if they ever worried that Dan Stevens’ “David” would be too likable and that fact might work against the movie, screenwriter Simon Barrett was sure that wouldn’t be an issue telling us, “No, we knew from the start that we wanted to be smart about this. We knew the movie is called The Guest, so it wasn’t about too much mystery. You know that he’s sinister and he’s headed in a sinister direction but we also knew that he was going to be the most likable character no matter what because he’s the most active character. He’s also very entertaining, which is something I’ve spoken about before, that movie likability is completely different from real life likability. In movies, the character the audience likes the most is the character who has provided them the most entertainment whether he’s doing it by breaking people’s ankles or by being the natural protagonist. So we actually always knew that Dan was going to be, in some ways, like a secret protagonist even though he’s very much the villain, and it was about just taking that and playing with it and kind of using that to kind of comment on a few things. Like, what is the real world effect, who is a violent villain? You can cheer him on when he’s smashing up bullies, but then when it goes in kind of a dark direction that is much more sinister, realize that they’re true to the character and maybe you don’t like him as much now but this is what it means … so we wanted to explore that a little bit…”
Barrett continued, “[T]he goal from the start, there was never a goal to make him unlikable and if we did want to make him unlikable, it would have been a pretty huge mistake to cast Dan Stevens [laughs] and we cast Dan Stevens specifically because of a lot of those things. Aside from being a great actor, you know, we both knew that he was very charismatic and likable and that was incredibly important. Adam has talked about the main thing he was doing with casting was, we knew that this guy was going to be – the audience was going to think he was sinister from the start, the movie’s called The Guest. It needed to feel real that the parents of the family would invite him in, so that likability was in fact a key component to the character.”
The Guest, directed by Adam Wingard, written by Simon Barrett and starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser, is in theaters now.