The best way for me to describe this film is “What if Capt America was The Stepfather?”. Dan Stevens (Downtown Abbey) plays as David, a returning war vet who goes to visit the parents of his dead war buddy to give them their sons dying message. He first meets the mother, Laura Peterson (Shelia Kelly from Lost) and immediately charms her into letting her stay with the family for a while. Her husband objects to the idea at first, but is also charmed enough by the stranger. Their son Luke (Brendan Meyer, iZombie) is apathetic, and the trouble comes from their daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, It Follows) immediately distrusts him.
Part of the charm of The Guest is watching it play out so I hesitate to say too much. The first twenty minutes or so are slow going, but we get the sense that David is fiercely protective of The Peterson’s. When David finds out that Luke is being bullied at school, we see just how manipulative and dangerous David can be. David follows the jocks who are tormenting Luke to the bar they go to that serves the under-age students because of their social standing. David orders blowjob shots for the girls, and cosmos for the boys to manipulate them into attacking him, at which point he utterly destroys them and gets away with the assaults by warning the bartender he’ll tell the local authorities about his tendency to serve minors. Part of what I loved about this movie are the fight scenes. David’s fighting style mirrors his sociopathic mindset. He moves with a cold and quick efficiency to quickly eliminate threats. He’s a lean, mean, fighting machine and as the story progresses we learn just how and why David is the “person” that he is.
Dan Stevens is great as the lead role as the immensely likable and terrifying David. Stevens brings a lot of charisma to the the character of David and is able to give little nuances to the role. A shift in the eyes or a little smile at times shows little cracks communicates more about David than dialogue could ever do. These little red flags add up after a while. David’s a powder keg that’s about to explode and destroy the Peterson’s lives forever. The Guest is a very solid effort from Adam Winguard, who is this generations John Carpenter (or as close as we’ll get to it). I’ve liked all the films I’ve seen by Winguard, especially 2010’s A Horrible Way to Die. You’re Next has also developed a cult following. The Guest is very different from Winguard’s other works in that it functions as an action thriller for the first hour or so before becoming a slash and stalk and slash flick at a Halloween party in the last twenty to thirty minutes.
The Guest moves at a brisk enough pace to keep you from being bored, but there are some writing issues with the film that need to be addressed. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that the characters, with the exception of Anna and David, are really stupid. Like insufferably dumb. The majority of the side characters exist on a mentally incompetent level so that David can get away with manipulating and murdering them. These flaws don’t take away from the enjoyment of the film though, they enhance it because we are on David’s side throughout the film. There is a scene in the school hallway between David and Luke where Luke becomes complicit in everything David does because “he’s his friend”. I feel the majority of the audience at this point feels the same way. Adam Winguard directs The Guest with an undercurrent of 80’s nostalgia. From the John Carpenter title cards to the slow burning plot, the film feels old-school without alienating younger fans. It’s a subtle touch that I enjoyed.
The ending leaves room for a sequel, and there is more mythology that can be explored. The Guest doesn’t need a part two, but I wouldn’t mind it if they did franchise it.
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