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Why All Directors Doing Genre Throwbacks Need to Study The Guest

The Guest

I’ve been a fan of Adam Wingard since I first saw A Horrible Way to Die. I had no idea what to expect from that film, but the character work really impressed me. The buzz for You’re Next had me really excited and the movie did not disappoint when I finally saw it. But The Guest blew me away. It feels like something so catered to my interests, it’s everything I want from the movie-going experience distilled into one feature. It shows such an evolution for Wingard as a filmmaker.

There are so many directors out there trying to do horror & genre movies that feel like the films they grew up with from the ‘80s. Many are trying to recapture the style of favorite creators like John Carpenter or David Cronenberg. That’s dangerous territory. You want to take influences from your favorite directors, but you don’t want to copy them. That’s where too many up-and-coming modern filmmakers fail.

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett succeed with The Guest because they don’t do that. If anything, they do the opposite. There are tons of visual cues to Carpenter. The atmosphere and ambience both feel like something that Carpenter would have created in his prime. But The Guest is so interesting because, despite all of this, it’s not the kind of movie that Carpenter would have made. Or at least, if he did, it’s readily clear that he would have done it in a totally different way.

Seeing all of the throwbacks to the 1980s and the clear inspiration from Carpenter and Cameron only goes to clearly show how Wingard has developed his own style as a director. It’s a throwback movie, to be sure. But it’s still entirely his and that’s where so many other filmmakers tend to fail when attempting to do a picture like this.

The neon color palate, the lingering sense of dread, the decision to set the whole film against the backdrop of Halloween in the Midwest, all of these elements are the perfect flourishes for an ‘80s horror movie. The brilliance of The Guest is that while it embraces all of these elements, it’s not even technically a horror movie. There are creepy aspects, for sure, but there are heavy thriller and outright action movie elements as well.

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David (Dan Stevens) wields a gun in Adam Wingard's The Guest.

The basic, bare-bones idea is really just the same backbone as The Terminator: A waitress does battle with an unstoppable killing machine. But everything crafted around that is different. In fact, that’s where The Guest unfortunately seems to lose too many people who aren’t willing to go along for the ride. They get lost when it starts unfolding into an unexpected political thriller. But that’s so great because you never see that kind of comment for movies that are crafted as genre throwbacks.

In movies like this, you need to go forward and backward at the same time. That’s how to actually craft a solid throwback. That’s the thing that up-and-coming filmmakers need to take away from The Guest. Make all the call backs and references that you want, but earn them by being true to yourself. Know your style and the kind of movie you want to make.

The deliberate sense of pacing, the way the movie unfolds without spoon feeding anything, that’s what makes The Guest work more than the colors and sounds, especially when so many things coming out right now have so much unnecessary exposition forced into them. The Guest doesn’t explain itself right away. It doesn’t even explain everything. The movie unravels an interesting plot, but at the same time, it leaves you with some questions. Some elements are left open to interpretation. That way, it’s all but ensured that you’ll still be thinking about the feature for a few days after watching it.

People love to complain about the lack of originality these days, but the truth is, if you’re true to yourself as a filmmaker and a storyteller you can always craft something original. You’re the only one with your life experiences and your unique view of the world. There’s a lot of that in The Guest. It’s the very reason it succeeds. That movie may contain the masks from Halloween III, it may have those synth sound cues and use Carpenter’s signature font, but it is purely an Adam Wingard film from the first frame to the last.

If more directors head in that direction, if more creators are able to achieve that kind of balance, then I honestly think the genre’s future looks very bright.

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Written by Nat Brehmer
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Nathaniel Brehmer has also written for Horror Bid, HorrorDomain, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, We Got This Covered, and more. He has also had fiction published in Sanitarium Magazine, Hello Horror, Bloodbond and more. He currently lives in Florida with his wife and his black cat, Poe.
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