Stevens plays David, a soldier returning home from duty, intent on visiting the abode of a former comrade’s family, to fulfil a dying wish and let them know how much he loved them. While his trip seems sincere and compassionate, and he builds up a strong relationship with his deceased friend’s younger brother Luke (Brendan Meyer) – it’s the sister Anna (Maika Monroe) who remains somewhat guarded, not entirely trusting David to be what he seems. It soon transpires that she is right to think that way, as a series of deaths around the town seem to be conspicuously linked to his surprise arrival.
While initially this film’s narrative bears little resemblance to the horror genre, tensions are built up and suspense is caused purely in the sound design. Essentially, we’re just witnessing a weird – if somewhat mysterious – man come over to lend his affections to a family still in mourning. But from the word go Wingard is playing with our perceptions, as the film’s title is revealed on the screen with an alarming screech to accompany it. Instantly you perceive the film in a different way, and suspect David to be capable of sinister wrongdoings. Who is he, and what does he want? Questions you may not have asked had the director not created such a volatile, intense atmosphere and tone from the offset.
Stevens is terrific in the role, in what is a complete transformation for him, and a real departure. He plays the role with such charisma, and yet he’s so excruciatingly difficult to judge. There’s also a swagger to his demeanour, as Stevens triumphantly plays up to type in a sense, with an affectionate, knowing portrayal of your archetypal antagonist from films of this ilk.
Such a sentiment is one that can be said of Wingard’s approach too, as he pays homage to the horror genre, by adhering to the distinct conventionalities with a tongue firmly in his cheek. There’s a sequence in the latter stages of the piece taking place in a kitsch halloween themed maze, with a pulsating, atmospheric piece of music, handpicked by David, with Anna fretfully roaming the area wearing a 1950s styled waitress outfit,. It’s somewhat contrived, yet given the nature of the film prior to this point, it never feels as though Wingard is merely vying for cult status, instead implemented with a knowing nod of sorts.
That being said, the ending is somewhat unsatisfying, and similarly to Wingard’s preceding endeavour You’re Next, the setup is far more engaging than the payoff. The pacing is spot and the slow-burning narrative compelling, but yet again he’s displayed an ineptitude for finality, unale to craft a dramatic conclusion to match the earlier exploits. It’s a real shame as you can’t help but leave feeling a little underwhelmed, in spite of the fact you had enjoyed yourself for the vast majority of the feature.