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To be fair, there's not a lot of stuff sitting at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and even fewer of those are deliriously trashy horror thrillers. Even the supremely awesome You're Next is way down at 74%, so.... it's not like I didn't go into The Guest with expectations. That it then got described as 'imagine the Terminator moved in with Sarah Connor, rather than trying to kill her...'

Oh hell, yes please.

And then have the lead be played by a former Downton dude, and it just seems like someone is making very odd choices. Awesome choices, as it turns out, but.. odd.

 I missed Frightfest this year for... reasons that meant I couldn't hack another weekend festival directly after two cons in August, but also because there was a serious case of blurb fatigue. Seriously, so many '....turns out to be a psychopath!' plots amidst all the found footage of weird beasties that they all blended into one long chase sequence with big knives. I wasted enough money on Scifi London this year already, ta all the same.

So  The Guest didn't exactly stand out in the programme there, and I didn't make the effort to catch it. Even if it was by the director of You're Next (can we talk about how awesome Sharni Vinson and Sharni Vinson's character is it that? Abso-freaking-lutely).

And the titular guest does, admittedly, turn out to be a psychopath - but the film is so upfront about it that it's hardly the point. Every other shot is close up Dan Stevens pulling what I like to call a Psycho Blue Steel face, complete with ridiculously blue eyes and a menacing synth soundtrack. Dude is crazytown. He's also ridiculously cute. And he's trying to help. Someone apparently watched the Terminator Tech Noir scene too much. I am such a sucker for this stuff.

The plot, such as it is - soldier dude rocks up at the front door of grieving family, claiming to be the army buddy of their recently deceased son... who promised aforementioned son he would try to help them out. Gets invited in, which said family live (or not) to regret. Violent death rate in small town suddenly mysteriously rockets a million percent. It is ridiculous.  It is also awesome.

It's not that the plot is particularly original, it's more that the plot knows it's not particularly original, and layers on the ridiculous with a forklift truck. You know what's coming, but it's done with such commitment to the genre; such OTT violence that it kind of tips over into being funny - and a whole huge dollop of 80s classics. It's not set in the 80s, but why let that stop you soundtracking everything with ominous synths, borrowing your lighting scheme from Tech Noir and having one of your leads basically be Sarah Connor (cute diner waitress outfit and all... I mean, really they should have just called her BFF fellow-waitress Ginger and be done with it). But, oh, there's all the ridiculousness, and then it's looped with characters who actually react like normal people. These are not your standard horror movie meat puppets. They ask the obvious questions (not that it necessarily... helps). And if your Final Girl is going to be Sarah Connor, you could do a lot worse than making her more like the freaking hardcase T:SCC Lena Heady version.

(oh wait, I just realised Maika Monroe is the lead in It Follows as well? There's one LFF ticket I don't regret already).

But it's not just all about Anna - the viewpoint characters shift according to how tricksy the plot is being. And while I don't want to say they woobify David as such... he's one of the less hateable psychopathic murderers in cinema.  It's not just that he's all awww shucks charming (that Southern accent being... pretty impressive but not quite pinpoint accurate - it's not quite deep enough to be having "y'all" in there - it works because he's not quite real.) but there is a genuine lack of enjoyment or sadism in the violence. He genuinely doesn't care who he hurts, by the end, but that's not the same as revelling in it. It's just collateral damage. If you start with the whole 'it's not really his fault, he's just designed that way', it veers nastily towards a lack of culpability and victim blaming, and it's not that either, it just doesn't feel like torture porn.  Although they noticeably do make a point of saying he was a psychopath before the whole military-experiment-gone-wrong thing,
that's really not the point.

But it is gloriously demented, and the ending will quite likely leave you walking out whilst giggling faintly hysterically. So much freaking fun.

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Jennifer Howell

July 2015

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