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5 Movies That Inspired The Awesome New Retro Thriller From The Makers Of "You're Next"

The Guest is the modern answer to the '80s blockbuster you didn't know you were waiting for. And in it, Dan Stevens proves he is much more than just Matthew Crawley.

Posted on September 17, 2014, at 2:36 p.m. ET


Dan Stevens in The Guest.

Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett could have done anything after last year's subversive slasher hit You're Next. Well, almost anything.

"Simon wrote one of the best action scenes ever," Wingard said of the high-intensity follow-up film that they ended up scrapping after making plans to shoot in South Korea. He hopes they'll salvage what he described as a 30- to 50-page car chase, but admitted that "we could have never pulled it off with the resources at the time."

Instead, the pair made The Guest, opening in limited release on Sept. 17 and wider the week after, a thriller starring Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens as "David," a soldier who turns up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to have served in the Middle East with their son Caleb, who was killed in action. David is polite, handsome, and helpful, but there's something a little off about him — about the way his face can go blank, like a glitching cyborg. There's also a sinister edge to the aid he offers each member of the family, though only the 20-year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) seems to spot it.

The Guest feels like an '80s movie in a way that has nothing to do with parody — it has the aura of a forgotten blockbuster you'd rent over and over from the video store because it's so much fun. It's nostalgic without being kitsch, because, as Wingard said, "I really started appreciating cinema as a kid during the late '80s. It was important to do something that says 'this is where we come from' and to take a postmodern approach." Wingard and Barrett guided BuzzFeed News through five of the movies that influenced their latest collaboration.

1. The Stepfather (1987)

Shout! Factory

Like the 1987 cult favorite starring Terry O'Quinn as a serial killer who marries into and then murders families, The Guest is about a kind of slow-motion home invasion. "It opens with him having killed his previous family," Barrett noted admiringly. "There's no mystery. The movie doesn't insult your intelligence by being like, 'We're calling it The Stepfather, but it's going to be 45 minutes before you see him do anything creepy.' The suspense is going to come from how interesting it is watching him in these insane dynamics."

Barrett wanted the same dynamic for The Guest: "It couldn't be 'is he or is he not evil?' He's a violent person and has a sinister agenda — we put that right up front. The fun is exploring the details of that. Once you create a character who's unhinged and potentially homicidal at any moment, watching him buy a pack of gum at the supermarket becomes inherently fascinating, because you don't know how he's going to react."

The character of Anna also has some similarities to the suspicious teenage daughter in The Stepfather, played by Jill Schoelen. "One of the things about the movies of the '80s that we both love," said Barrett, is that "in all those movies, the kids are smart and the parents are stupid. The '80s had that rebellious aspect to them — particularly films like Nightmare on Elm Street, where the parents are literally drugging their kids because they don't believe them."

2. The Terminator (1984)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The Guest was born from the combination of one of Barrett's abandoned screenplays and Wingard watching a double feature of The Terminator and Halloween. Wingard called the James Cameron classic "more of an aesthetic influence," saying it "was the inspiration of doing a hybridization of horror, sci-fi and action."

"I love the relentlessness of The Terminator," Wingard said. "Terminator 2 would be up there as well. We always talk about the '80s, but I think that turning point where it awkwardly turned into the '90s is really interesting too. Terminator 2 really personified that, building the characterization and softening even the Terminator himself."

"My least favorite thing in Terminator 2 is Edward Furlong whining that Arnold Schwarzenegger can't just go around killing people," added Barrett. "You'll notice we went in a different direction with that in The Guest."

3. Halloween (1978)

Falcon International Productions

John Carpenter's fingerprints are all over The Guest, particularly in regard to his influential '70s horror movie Halloween. In that film, Wingard noted, psychotic killer Michael Myers "is this faceless shape." After rewatching it, he found himself wondering what the contemporary take on the film would be like. Discussing it with Barrett made him realize "the modern version of Halloween is the inversion of that idea. It's not the faceless shape in the distance, because we've seen that a million times now. The new version is the guy that's living in your house."

Stevens' character is the opposite of faceless. He's "handsome and everyone's best friend," Wingard said, but "similar to Michael Myers, you don't actually ever know what he's really thinking." "That's why also there are a lot of shots that focus on Dan's face," he continued. "I wanted to give audiences time to project everything that they wanted onto Dan and have their own ideas. The real thesis of this movie was let's throw out the notion of good guy or bad guy. Let's just make a character that, even when he's past the point of no return, maybe you're cheering against him. We wanted to create a conflict in the audience."

4. First Blood (1982)

Lions Gate

The Guest has got a touch of sci-fi to it, but in one way, it fits in with First Blood, Taxi Driver, and other movies about traumatized vets. "We definitely wanted to play with the whole PTSD thing," said Wingard. "I do feel that Dan's character is a complete sci-fi metaphor for that."

When he was writing the original — and eventually abandoned — screenplay for The Guest in 2007, Barrett observed that multiple movies were coming out that were about the second Iraq War, but "nobody was seeing them, because all they were really saying was that war was bad, and if you didn't agree with that already, you weren't going to have your mind changed by Stop Loss or In the Valley of Elah or Jarhead." He was interested in finding a way to address those themes in a more audience-friendly thriller, but was also reluctant to write a self-serious film on the topic given that he never served himself.

In revisiting the idea with a new angle of approach post-You're Next, Barrett found that "the film plays out as a metaphor for anyone who signed up post-9/11 in an altruistic way. There was this 'we're going to go liberate and help the people of Iraq,' and then you end up being very much in opposition to them, and I think that was very disillusioning for a lot of the soldiers that were over there." Still, Barrett doesn't see The Guest as an overtly political movie in any way. "That's not the kind of filmmakers we are. If someone comes out of The Guest and they perceived that, that's great, but we want to have entertained them first."

5. Prometheus (2012)

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

When coming up with the character of "David," Wingard looked not to the brawny example of The Terminator-era Schwarzenegger but to Michael Fassbender's slippery performance as the genteel, untrustworthy android in Prometheus, also named David. "Say what you will about Prometheus," Wingard said, "but Fassbender's incredible in that film and held it together."

Wingard had seen Stevens in his breakout role as the dashing Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey before casting him, having watched the first season with his parents over Thanksgiving in Alabama ("I love costume dramas anyway," he said). "Dan actually made a great impression on me — he stood out even in an ensemble." The prospect of working with someone interested in overturning his old image was also exciting to the filmmakers. "A talented actor like Dan can change his accent and change his abs, but you can't really fake charisma and likability, which he just radiates on Downton Abbey," Barrett said. "We needed someone a family would invite into their home, much like Matthew Crawley was invited into Downton."

Wingard was also more interested in finding an "interesting actor as opposed to necessarily a physical one," though Stevens manages to cut an impressive figure anyway, emerging through from the steam of a shower wearing only a towel. "Generally in films of this genre you'll see the women very flatteringly portrayed and the male actors less fetishized," Barrett said. "We wanted to objectify everybody," Wingard added. "We really did want to put the emphasis on Dan. That was part of the seduction of the character."

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