Adam Wingard’s The Guest isn’t necessarily a horror film. Strictly speaking, it’s more of a suspense thriller in the 1980s fashion. However, when one contemplates the themes of the film, a decidedly horrific element emerges. Dozens of movies, books, and televisions shows have explored the idea of allowing evil into your life. And, yes, some of the most frightening works of art are about evil being forced upon you. But there’s just something about the idea of welcoming it in that just sends shivers up our spines.
Because it comes down to trust. For some, trust is easy. For others, it’s very difficult. We keep ourselves guarded, hoping that somebody will say just the right thing for us to finally tear the walls down. To think that that instinct can be so effectively exploited is certainly frightening, but also disheartening.
We often watch horror films and shout to the characters, “Don’t go in there” or “Stay together! Don’t split up!” We naturally insert ourselves into the story, asking what we would do. And yet, when it comes to the idea of willingly allowing a dark force into our world, anybody watching the movies of our lives would likely do the same thing to us.
We are often told that if we just had this one thing – more money, a better job, good looks, whatever – we’d finally be happy. And, of course, anybody will tell you that money doesn’t buy happiness, and that beauty is only skin deep. But, what about the deeper desires? The desperate need to find companionship, to avoid loss, to get back those that were taken from you.
These are very real emotional fears, and they’re the ones that are harder to deal with. It’s easy to accept that money doesn’t fix all of our problems. But, a wife? A child? These are the things that we’re supposed to build our lives around, right? We should be willing to do almost anything to get them. Then we’ll finally be complete.
It is this thinking that is explored in The Guest so effectively. A family that is deeply wounded from the loss of a son is approached by a stranger named David. A good-looking, polite young man claiming to have served with their son. The family welcomes him into their lives. He is everything that the family needs right now. For the parents, he is the son they lost. For the youngest son, David is an older brother. For the daughter, he is a possible romantic interest.
None of this is specifically wrong. Everybody deals with loss in their own way. But, of course, David is not exactly what he seems. He has within him demons that even he doesn’t fully know about. Were the family really paying attention, they’d probably be able to see this. However, they’re not thinking clearly. Their lives have been thrown into disarray by their loss, and, as a result, they’re all too willing to bring something into their lives that they think will fill in the sizable gaps.
Chaos eventually ensues, and we watch in horror as David’s true nature is revealed.
There are moments of humor and wit in The Guest, and it is often quite suspenseful. It is also a rather heartbreaking film. These are vulnerable people who never wanted any of this to happen. And here they are, their lives fractured even more by the promise of safety and security.
This is a dilemma that Christians can certainly relate to. How many times have we engaged in something that we know we shouldn’t, simply because it promised to fulfill our desires, only to make our lives even worse? And, of course, all of us would look at drugs, porn, and other sins of the flesh, and definitively state that those are clearly wrong.
But what if it’s not merely about the act of sinning? What if we allow evil in simply by having the wrong priorities? We are told to not have any other gods before God Himself. And yet we so regularly put our jobs, our families, and even our piety ahead of God, as though these are the things that will make our lives complete.
And, again, there’s nothing specifically wrong with these things, but making an idol out of even the best thing is a path to destruction. Why? Because these aren’t the things that will save us. They were never meant to. Properly prioritized, these things help us to understand and worship God more. Placed at the forefront, however, and they are merely false gods.
Why does the Bible speak so much about idols and false gods? Because they’re so easy to accept. They tell us what we want to hear and are never challenging. Just like David in The Guest, these things appear to give us everything we want. But, in the end, if we choose them above all else, they will be the instrument of our estrangement from God. And we will be broken and alone, wishing we had never let such an attractive distraction inside.
“The Guest” is rated R for strong violence, language, drug use and a scene of sexuality.