Saturday 6 September 2014


(Adam Wingard, 2014)

The sort of lowish budget genre mash-up that makes mega-budget blockbusters look really inept. Many of those movies can't get one genre right, but here Wingard and screenwriter Michael Barrett manage to successfully, gleefully combine a few in a nifty, modest little thriller with wit, style and impact.
Dan Stevens is beautifully used. His character, the too-nice-to-be true soldier David, returns to the U.S. after a stint somewhere in the Middle East and checks in on the family of his friend who has been killed in action. Only there is something off about David. Something studied and watchful, and when he is left alone, his face reverts to a malevolent scowl. These are the best passages in the movie; as David sets about getting to know this family and helping them in his own way, Wingard focuses on Stevens' piercing blue eyes and the actor emphasises his own bland charm until it becomes something vaguely sinister. He brutally, spectacularly beats up the bulles who have been making teen nerd Luke's life hell, listens to Dad's (Leland Orser) work woes, shares tales of their deceased son with Mom (Sheila Kelley) and accompanies Anna (Maika Monroe) to a party where his studly decency and decisiveness in dealing with the arrival of an angry ex-boyfriend goes down very well.
But Anna is suspicious, and soon people start to turn up dead, and we learn that David is not quite what he seems, and that there are serious, extremely armed people after him.
The last act, then, transforms into a mixture of shoot-em-up action film and stalker film, but Wingard handles both genres well. The finale takes place in a high school gym set up for a Halloween Ball, including a Halloween maze and lots of dry ice, and there are moments referring to everything from John Carpenter and The Terminator to The Hitcher and Hitchcock. A big set-piece gun battle decimating an isolated farmhouse is nicely done, and the whole thing makes a virtue of it's few locations and small cast, upping the tension through an intense focus on the dynamic within the home of one family after they invite one guest to stay.
Wingard directs with style and precision - there is a vivid, warm colour palette here and some beautiful compositions, and the '80s-esque electro soundtrack by Steve Moore helps to build a thickly suspenseful atmosphere.

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