There's no sense denying it: The 1980s was the heyday for horror movies -- the decade even had its very own scream queen (Jamie Lee Curtis, for you '90s babies). Present day thrillers are arguably lagging behind; that is, unless someone brilliantly concocts a film that fits right in with both modern cinema and the original Friday the 13th and Halloween. (Yes, both those films have been shamefully remade in the last decade, so the originality must be noted).
Enter the filmmaking team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett: one directs and the other writes. Their latest collaboration stars Downton Abbey alum, Dan Stevens, as the world's worst (and creepiest) houseguest in the appropriately titled The Guest.
The film centers on Stevens' character, David, who returns home from war and goes to visit the family of a fellow soldier. What follows is plenty of violence, some mysterious deaths, and a whole lotta '80s music. Everything from the soundtrack, to the close-up shots, to the font used evokes the yearning for that decade.
The starting point for Wingard was essentially a back-to-basics, nostalgic inspiration: "I wanted to do a film that encapsulated sort of why I became a filmmaker to begin with."
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Sitting in a spacious suite at the Soho Beach House surrounded by vintage chairs over-stuffed with pillows, it was the perfect backdrop for the creators and star of a film that blends the old with the new.
Utilizing different genre elements from the '80s, Wingard says he was inspired by the structure of Halloween and the overall zeitgeist of Terminator. "At the same time, I wanted to make a very modern movie, I didn't want it to be like a parody of genre stuff. It was important that it just kind of existed in the same head-space that those '80s films would have been made."
Using his hands to try and explain where he drew the idea for the film, Wingard looks over at his writing partner and passes the reigns to him; "ultimately, Simon kind of wove [everything] together."
The once private investigator, Barrett wrote the screenplay for The Guest in under eight weeks. When asked about the dark humor that interlaces the film's terrorizing moments, Barrett laughed and said it would be too "self-indulgent" to admit there were moments when writing that he laughed at himself because he knew the audience would enjoy themselves.
"It's hard, it delays me so much I have to take little breaks where I just look in the mirror and smile," jokes the screenwriter.
On a more serious note, he goes on to share his two favorite scenes from the film. "There's a scene in the bar where Dan's character instigates a fight with some bullies... and the scene where he confronts a high school principal, which I really enjoyed writing because it was kind of like every kid's fantasy growing up: to put the principal in his place like that.
"There were some fun scenes, but I generally try to keep the self-congratulatory laughter to a minimum," Barrett says.
One of the things that attracted Stevens to the role of David was the humor he found in the script. "As soon as it landed on my desk, I was delighted by it. I thought I was very, very funny and just a very engaging piece." Once he met with Wingard and Barrett, "I realized that this was a fun team that I wanted to join" and the decision was made on his first post-Matthew Crawley gig.
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Throughout the film, Stevens' character is overheard talking about a plastic surgeon he plans to visit in Florida, more specifically, Miami. Cue the eye-roll here. There's more to our city than those fake-boobed bimbos sprawled on Miami Beach! We protest!
Wingard and Stevens laugh at our objection and Barrett confesses that he made a mistake on the matter. "I later did the research and discovered that actually Salt Lake City, Utah is the plastic surgery capital of the U.S. I thought it was Miami; I was just wrong. It's like Miami has a different reputation... If I could do it again, he'd be heading to Salt Lake City."
The Guest opens in theaters Wednesday, September 17.