Movies have done a lot to harm friendly relations, although the Peterson family clearly hasn’t seen enough. If you live in a small town and a stranger knocks on the door, the first reaction should by now be suspicion. If they happen to be charming and implausibly attractive, alarm bells must be ringing. Predictably, the unexpected visitor in The Guest wastes little time in getting up to no good and until a rash plot development in the final third, it’s delightful tongue-in-cheek fun.
Dan Stevens takes the lead as David Collins, the discharged military veteran who turns up out of the blue at the household of the Peterson family. He claims to be a friend of Caleb, their son who died on duty. He even carries dog tags and points himself out in a group photo with their son. Caleb’s mother Laura (Sheila Kelley) invites him to stay and after initial scepticism, he wins over Caleb’s father Spencer (Leland Orser), high school brother Luke (Brendan Meyer) and 20 year old sister Anna (Maika Monroe) who works as a waitress to save up for college.
Even when he’s being nice it’s sinister. Stevens plays David with a slick, detached charm. He seems the perfect package but the rage lurking beneath occasionally surfaces. When sorting out some bullies for Luke in a bar, his true nature flickers before he calmly beats the lot of them into submission. Elsewhere, he sets about doing deeds that could class him as a Good Samaritan if his approach wasn’t so very illegal.
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett mix thrills with lighter comic moments. Watching David seducing Anna by wandering around topless or demonstrating his strength with beer kegs is only matched by his violent advice to Luke. At one point, he wisely advises him to take a knife into school to deal with bullies, and failing that to burn down their houses with their families inside. Stevens’ wonderfully deadpan delivery keeps it the right side of arch.
If only The Guest would have carried on down that track. When helping Spencer gain promotion through unorthodox means or, in a standout moment, preventing Luke from getting expelled, it’s highly enjoyable. Then comes the twist that drags it all down. David’s dark past can’t hide forever and soon he’s grappling anxious military forces keen to get him back to base (or just neutralise him). It’s a crashing disappointment that after such an enjoyable build up, a weak military experiment sub-plot pops up to see out proceedings.
In tune with the rest of the film, the bloodletting inspired by the military’s appearance is ludicrous enough to enjoy. The decimation of a diner is done with a wink while a Halloween maze showdown is straight out of Wingard’s horror back catalogue. It’s a shame it hinges on a weak turn of events. The Guest lets itself down at the end but it provides a healthy dose of gleefully macabre excitement before then.
The Guest is in cinemas 5th September.
Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser
Runtime: 99 mins