The pre-publicity for Disney’s live-action version of Beauty and the Beast might have revolved around any number of subjects: Why make a live-action redo of a classic animated film? How would Emma Watson fare outside her Harry Potter world? Had Disney spent too much money (a rumored $300 million, including marketing costs)? As it happens, the actual conversation has mostly been about director Bill Condon’s recent comment that a character in the movie might perhaps be seen as gay. This idea, that something about an American musical had gay coloring, apparently came as a great shock to—whom, exactly? After a minute of fuss about whether or not Russian film censors would allow the movie to be shown in their country (they will, but only to people over 16), the issue seems to have died down.
Whatever Adam Wingard is drinking, please keep ’em coming. The director’s most recent two features are uneven but brimming with nerve and invention: You’re Next (released here last year) upends the conventions of the home-invasion slasher movie and let viewers laugh through their gasps; and The Guest works increasingly daffy variations on the mysterious-stranger subgenre. In this case the stranger is an Afghanistan vet, David (Dan Stevens, a Downton Abbey refugee), who shows up at the front door of the Peterson home in Small Town, U.S.A. The Petersons have lost a son in battle, and David was with him at the end—indeed, David’s here looking in on the family because of a promise made at the hour of death. Or so he says. How many mysterious strangers can be trusted on such things?
We won’t give away the answer to that question, but Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are clever at playing a certain kind of audience-engagement game.