The Guest is an unusual one. It takes a simple premise — about a handsome, mysterious stranger who shows up on a doorstep claiming to know the deceased son of a bereaved family — and develops it into a dark, slightly comical psychological thriller where you never really know what’s going to happen next.
Downton Abbey alumnus Dan Stevens is virtually unrecognizable as David Collins, a dark and mysterious stranger who shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to have served in Afghanistan with their dead son Caleb. I had no idea that I had just watched Stevens, who is British, in A Walk Among the Tombstones, where he has dark hair and trimmed facial hair. Here, he looks completely different, almost like a young Nicholas Brody from Homeland, with reddish blonde hair, an All-American smile, and a somewhat sinister brand of charm.
Anyway, David is gradually welcomed into the family, offering a friendly ear for the father (Leland Orser) to air his grievances at work, taking on the bully problems of the youngest son (Brendan Meyer) at school, and impressing the friends of the young daughter (Maika Monroe) at parties. But of course, David is not quite who he seems, and eventually shit has to go down.
The stuff that happens in the guest feel familiar, and yet it’s not easy to recall where you have seen it before. Collins sets himself up as a likable antihero — he does things seemingly out of kindness and justice, things we wish we had the courage and ability to do, but at the same time he is so obviously unstable that we know we must maintain our distance. Every time a new scenario pops up you wonder if David is to be naughty or nice.
The result is a little cheesy, but it’s also plenty of fun because the film is smart enough to not take itself too seriously. It’s violent and unsettling when it wants to be, but there are times when it allows you take a step back and see how wickedly absurd the whole thing is.
A film like this wouldn’t work without quality performances, and a big part of why it excels is because of Dan Stevens. He’s cool, he’s charming, and he can also be terrifying. There’s something about the facial expressions of David that he gets just right. Maika Monroe is actually also pretty good, as are the rest of the family.
The Guest ultimately feels like a low-budget B-movie, but boy is it a damn good one. It’s the type of film that will surprise you with how enjoyably watchable it is if you rent on DVD when there’s nothing else or come across it on late night TV. I haven’t seen any of director Adam Wingard’s other movies, but now I am intrigued by his handling of the material and wouldn’t mind checking out seemingly crappy horrors on his resume such as You’re Next and the two V/H/S films.
4 stars out of 5