Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Guest, I Am Eleven

The Guest
I Am Eleven

What a constricted and depressing view of humanity writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard offer in the insultingly slapdash genre-bender “The Guest.”

Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” stars as David Collins, a soldier who as the movie opens shows up at the door of Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley), claiming to have been a close friend of Caleb, the son she lost in the Iraq War. Laura invites him in and, after he relays a loving last message from Caleb, offers to put him up in her son’s old room. This doesn’t sit well with her husband Spencer (Leland Orser) or their 20-year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe in the only supporting performance of note), but son Luke (Brendan Meyer), a high school freshman, welcomes the new arrival, especially after David beats up all the bullies who badger him in the halls.

The fundamental problem with “The Guest” is that it’s patently obvious to all of us that David is not who he claims to be, and Barrett spoon-feeds us further with David’s clandestine calls to a de-licensed Florida plastic surgeon (complete with 555 prefix). The supremely silly way the plot plays out, with a hush-hush military-corporate squadron that springs into action after Anna investigates David’s Army records, is so poorly thought through that Lance Reddick (as “Major Carver”) looks down and mumbles, seemingly embarrassed to recite clich├ęs about a secret government program and David’s “neurological condition.” Meanwhile, some of the players’ reactions to the violent deaths of loved ones, friends and acquaintances evince a monastic equanimity. There’s no mystery here, and no thrills for horror fans, either, despite a climactic showdown in the high school auditorium’s Halloween maze of funhouse mirrors and spring-triggered goblins.

The premise plays on our susceptibility to those who would insinuate a connection with us that does not exist. But Barrett doesn’t take it anywhere exciting. Dan Stevens is a hunk with a gorgeous face. Laura’s a mother barely beginning to get over her grief and a wife disappointed in and bored with her marriage. Spencer’s an alcoholic doomed, without a college degree, not to advance in his job. Anna’s a sexy young woman who closes her eyes and bites her lip after walking into the steamy bathroom David just showered in. Luke’s a sensitive, introverted and inexperienced teenager. The idea of David’s coming in and taking over the household is one rife with psychological and erotic possibilities. “The Guest” is a real missed opportunity.

For the documentary “I Am Eleven,” director Genevieve Bailey traveled to fifteen countries and interviewed dozens of 11-year-olds about life, love, school, religion, the world and the future. The result is as likable but as shallow as you’d expect, with occasional insights and a few joyous scenes of kids doing the things (rapping, dancing, training elephants) they love most. What sticks out is the prevalence of bullying among their concerns, as well as the contrast between the Indian orphans who cherish school time and the moneyed American who wishes the weekend lasted four days. I’d feel curmudgeonly awarding fewer than two stars to such a sweet-spirited movie, but I’ve had my fill now of these globetrotting documentaries that check off countries like attributes on an eHarmony compatibility form but don’t spend long enough anywhere to create a meaningful bond.

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