Review by David Watson
Stars Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Ethan Embry, Lance Reddick, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Brendan Meyer, Joel David Moore, Chase Williamson, Candice Patton, Katie Anne Mitchell
Written by Simon Barrett
Certification UK 15 | US R
Runtime 99 minutes
Directed by Adam Wingard
In the traumatic wake of soldier son Caleb’s death in Afghanistan, the Peterson family is falling apart. Mom Laura (Kelley) is consumed with grief, arguing with stressed out dad Spencer (Orser), geeky teenage son Luke (Meyer) is bullied mercilessly by his school’s anointed and older sister Anna (Monroe) is sneaking around with the town bad boy, the local drug dealer.
When a former comrade of Caleb’s, the charming, sincere David (Stevens) calls on Sheila to offer his condolences, she impulsively invites him to stay, installing him in Caleb’s old room. Handsome, polite, friendly and helpful, David is the perfect house guest, ingratiating himself with the family, offering the connection to Caleb’s past that Sheila desperately needs, a drinking buddy and surrogate son for Spencer, a big brother and vengeful guardian angel for Luke, beating seven shades out of his jock tormentors, and even a relationship counsellor for Anna. But is David a little too good to be true?
After a string of suspicious deaths and the arrest of her boyfriend, Anna becomes increasingly suspicious of the mysterious stranger, calling his former base to confirm his identity only to be informed the soldier known as David died in a fire several weeks earlier and prompting the arrival of black ops specialist Carver (The Wire’s Reddick) and a heavily armed hit squad of mercenaries intent on capturing or killing ticking time bomb David who explodes into bloody violence…
A violent, muscular, trashy exploitation flick with a knowing, almost camp streak of pitch-black comedy, The Guest slyly riffs on haunted war veteran films such as Rolling Thunder and First Blood, bringing the war home to small town USA with an indestructible antihero right out of a slasher movie (the climax is even set at the high school’s Hallowe’en dance), Downton Abbey’s Stevens giving Ryan Gosling a run for his money in the man-crush stakes as the violent, sociopathic David, the You’re Next team of Wingard and Barrett apparently drawing inspiration from back-to-back viewings of The Terminator and Halloween to capture the grubby, low-fi thrills of early John Carpenter and '80’s DTV action flicks without ever tipping over into smug, hipster pastiche.
Sassy scream queen-in-waiting Monroe makes for a convincingly capable Final Girl, her investigations a deliberate nod to The Stepfather movies. Reddick is an authoritative meshing of Richard Crenna’s Trautman from the Rambo films and Donald Pleasance’s pistol-packing Dr Loomis from the Halloween movies (though he never presents much of a threat to Stevens’ David), while the always excellent Orser and Kelley are affecting as the broken-hearted parents, and there’s a vulnerable, pleasingly puppyish quality to Meyer, who gazes at Stevens with shiny-eyed hero worship.
But The Guest belongs to Stevens, unrecognisable from the stiff upper lip, posh boy of Downton. With his “aw shucks” sincerity and ice-blue eyed Aryan good looks, he’s is almost the flip-side of Marvel’s Captain America - a US army super soldier who’s gone rogue, a puppet who’s cut his own strings. While his motives are never expressly made clear, whether he’s gunning down a Blackwater-esque kill team out for his blood in the middle of hanging up the laundry, blowing up the local diner or cheerfully blackmailing the school principal, Stevens is magnetic blazing across the screen in a star-making performance.
While you’re never in much doubt how this '80s throwback is going to turn out, The Guest is trashy, violent, darkly comic fun.