Writer: Simon Barrett
Cast: Dan Stevens, Brendan Meyer, Maika Monroe, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser
Running time: 99mins
The lowdown: Dan Stevens sheds his posho Downton Abbey image for Adam Wingard’s explosive follow-up to You’re Next. Stevens is David, a soldier back from Afghanistan visiting the family of a dead brother-in-arms. But, as he ingratiates himself what secret is he hiding? Chills and thrills come with rapid fire regularity, all anchored in a revelatory performance from Stevens.
The full verdict: If You’re Next was about the war between generations, The Guest targets the Middle Eastern conflict spilling across the front lawn of Middle America.
Lifting the basic plot of Pasolini’s Theroem, also seen in Brimstone and Treacle and Visitor Q, stranger David appears on the doorstep of the Peterson family.
Bringing comforting final words from their dead son, ex-army David seems to answer the family prayers. Providing closure for the parents (Kelly and Orser), an older brother for bullied Luke (Meyer), only daughter Anna (Greta Gerwig-alike Monroe) seems resistant to his magnetism.
But, Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are less interested in mystery than in the destruction caused by this id-like figure. David’s mask of sanity slips early on, while the fiery cocktails he guzzles and an almost supernatural ability to answer secret desires suggests a more diabolical origin.
Whether orchestrating a barroom brawl with Luke’s playground tormentors or helping Mr Peterson up the career ladder, David is presented with the perfect amount of Machiavellian charm.
Through this The Guest essentially creates a Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees for the modern age. A lethal, charismatic character borne of the nightly news, spliced with the current trend for superheroes and dark, troubled leading men.
Hell, at times Stevens even looks like Bradley Cooper.
But, should the lineage with Halloween be missed, Steve Moore’s John Carpenter-esque synth score and a climax at a high school Halloween event are neat 80s reminders.
Then, midway through The Guest shifts tone completely. Gone is simmering psycho-drama, in comes explosive messy carnage.
It’s a bold move, and the message is clear: weapons intended for pacification of faraway lands are as likely to erupt in US suburbs. But Wingard executes this with explosive panache, upping the splatter action he delivered in You’re Next (but dissipating the dread that film sustained throughout).
Monroe and Meyer are perfect support as siblings caught in David’s web, but this is Stevens’ show. Pay him a visit now.