The Guest is an unusual film because it hits so many notes and defies the single genre stereotype. It’s scary, exhilarating, darkly comic and LOL-worthy.
It stars Dan Stevens –Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey – transformed into David, a psychopathic serial killer from Kentucky who tracks down the family of a recently deceased army buddy.
His mission is to protect them, even if it means total mayhem. He’s managed to fool the family about who he is, but Anna, the daughter played by Maika Monroe, makes a phone call to confirm his identity unwittingly opening her family to extreme danger.
We spoke with Stevens and Monroe during the Toronto International Film Festival where the film delighted fans at its Midnight Madness première.
I worked for many years in a newsroom and we noticed the worst serial killers were all good-looking and charming. If you go through history, it’s true. And you fit that.
DS – We were going for a certain amount of charm. He does charm his way into the house and the hearts of most of the family with the exception of Anna, who’s a much tougher nut to crack.
We wanted to play with that hero/villain complex and mix it up and stretch the audience’s imagination.
I certainly enjoy movies where I feel the filmmakers are teasing me a bit, taking me for a fun ride and having something very skillful about it, making you think you’re watching a certain kind of film where you think you know this character or this interaction, this mother daughter conversation or a father son and then they just do something a little bit different with it. It wakes you up a bit.
He launches a reign of terror in the town in defense of the family. But what is it he wants?
DS – I like to believe what he was saying and we went with as much truth as we could. He’s there to honour his bond with his friend, to check on the family and see if they’re alright and pass on a few messages.
So mission by mission, he looks at the family for something in their lives that he can improve, particularly with the mother and her grief and he helps her around the house, he’s very good at folding laundry.
His father is struck in a dead-end job and he helps him out with that.
Anna is a tricky one. She’s a conundrum, she’s harder to charm and also what she needs in her life is more complicated, she has this deadbeat boyfriend with a lot of potential and she needs empowering.
By the end of the movie, he’s achieved his aim with Anna in that she is now the ultimate bad-ass. He does her a huge favour by murdering all those people. Obscenities aside, that’s how David sees things when we meet him in the movie.
This is a horror thriller in which the main response is laughter, a weird guilty laughter.
DS – My typical response to a horror movie is to laugh a lot. My first reaction is often laughter.
A lot of people find that. But there is an element where this film is not really horror; it’s an action thriller that borrows heavily from horror. It’s great when audiences decide they have permission to laugh. It’s not offending anyone.
Maika you show that it’s okay to be cautious because teenagers in horror films aren’t cautious. They’re out for fun. And you show its okay to trust your instincts and act on them.
MM – Thank you. I think that was one of the things I loved about her is that she kicked some serious ass. She’s not scared. She’s on the good side.
DS – That’s one element in The Guest from the 80’s and 90’s movies where the children are always smarter than the parents. That’s something I used to love about them, even in John Hughes movies there’s lots to back that up.
The kids are probably the smartest people in the room. David’s a different kind of smart. He’s got his own little agenda. But Anna particularly she knows what’s up.
The action towards the end of the film takes place in a Hallowe’en horror maze at the high school. You don’t know what you’re looking at or where you’re going. Was it hard to shoot?
MM – Yes! I hate haunted mazes. I love horror movies and I love to scream but if I am thrown into a maze I hate it. That was the scariest thing to shoot.
My biggest fear is clowns, they’re terrifying, I hatred carnival things. There’s this room we had to go through all these deformed clowns and they decided because they knew how much I hated clowns, to put people in robotic clowns and we did one take and one jumped out at me.
Everyone’s just dying laughing. Now I can laugh at it but at the time I was terrified. They got me! 100% for the extras!
Downton Abbey to this is so huge. Did you think, “I’m getting out of this classical mode into this crazy mode’?
DS – It wasn’t one-two steps.
I did The Heiress on Broadway which is a little step away from Downton, still a costume piece realm but an American role, a little more ambiguous than the ever-so-noble Matthew Crawley.
And then Scott Frank offered me a part in A Walk Among the Tombstones which is hard boiled thriller, much darker territory than I had gone to before.
So that started to open different possibilities in terms of the range of things I was looking at. And then The Guest came along which was similarly dark territory but funny and it was nice to connect with a little bit of a strange kind of twisted comedy. It’s not comedy nor is it horror. It’s southern fried Gothic!
Maika are you a fan of Downton?
MM – I didn’t see it until I knew I was going to work with him and then I watched and I was just like “How the hell is he going to pull this off?” (Dan laughs) I was worried, Dan, I was worried about you. Everyone was! The first couple of days onset, seeing his transformation everyone was blown away.
Maika you have two horror films this year, It Follows and The Guest. Are you pretty thrilled?
MM – Of course! It has been insane. These films just happen to go back to back and both of the scripts are very different and categorised under the same genre. Both scripts are so unique and different and I was drawn to them. It’s pretty awesome being called Scream Queen, I like that! But how come out of nowhere I’m the Scream Queen.
DS– So does Jamie Leigh Curtis come and give you a tiara and anoint you?
MM – Yes!
DS – I’d like to get a tiara from Jamie Leigh Curtis! That’s my ambition.