Horror isn’t really my thing. It’s my largest critical blind spot, and while I’d like to correct that, I’m afraid. I enjoy suspense thrillers (Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense) quite a bit, but the “something’s gonna jump out at you” genre unnerves me to no end. I’ve long feared being shock-scared, so I’ve never built up any tolerance to the movies that trade in those kind of frights.
So, it was with great trepidation that I went into a midnight screening of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s (of V/H/S and You’re Next fame) The Guest, a horror film steeped in 80s nostalgia and campy-fun genre exploitation. I had read that the film owed as much to James Cameron as it does to John Carpenter, so my courage was buoyed enough to attempt the viewing. The reports I read were sort of right—the film certainly features some Terminator-esque touches—but in the end this is a slasher film through and through.
In the moment, I was terrified, but now, in the light of day and removed from the initial feeling of trauma, I have to admit I had a lot of fun watching this movie. The camp-nostalgia is tuned just right, and even though i’m not intimately familiar with the films the movie is homaging, I know enough about them to appreciate what the movie is doing. There’s a real admiration for past masters on display here and a youthful ebullience reminiscent of the times I’d wait by the side of our bathroom door for my brother to exit so I could shout “BOO!” at him when we were kids.
I also found it immensely entertaining to see Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey renown) in such an off-kilter role. He’s creepy and strange and still somewhat charming in the way that only the best villains are. I’d love to see him, Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber from Die Hard, and Henry Fonda’s Frank from Once Upon A Time in the West sit down for a fireside chat. It would end in bloodshed, no doubt, but it would be a fascinating conversation to watch.
Remember, this was really my first slasher experience, so forgive me if the following observation is elementary. I was surprised by how conservative the overall message of this movie turned out to be. It’s as pro-family as anything put out by the Moral Majority in the film’s beloved 1980s. The main character, Anna (Maika Monroe in humorously perfect 80s garb), is at first barely tolerant of her family. She’d rather be anywhere other than where they are. By the film’s end, she’s doing all she can to preserve and protect them. The family becomes the most important thing in the world, the only thing worth sacrificing everything else for. As in other horror films (I’m told), the characters that trade in sexual promiscuity—the biggest threat to the society’s familial structure for obviously biological reasons—come to ignoble ends. Biological, paternally-structured but maternally-preserved, Midwestern, American, capital “F” Family prevails.
Are other slasher films like this? I don’t know. I’ll have to work up the courage to find out, but if they are all as fun as The Guest, I probably shouldn’t be so afraid.
(The Guest is scheduled for a September release.)