“Would you like to come inside?” asks Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley) to the tall, smiling, blue-eyed David (Dan Stevens) who shows up on her doorstep. Laura is grieving over the loss of her son Caleb, who died at war. David, who says he was a friend of Caleb’s, comforts Laura, telling her he was with her son when he died. Look—there’s even a picture of the squad with David and Caleb on the Peterson’s mantle.
And so begins The Guest, a mostly enjoyable B-movie that joins a long list of films (Teorama, Six Degrees of Separation, The Stepfather, and Borgman, among many others) where a stranger enters a house and wreak havoc on the family.
While Laura’s husband Spencer (Leland Orser) isn’t too keen on the unknown David being a houseguest, after a few drinks, he softens, and asks the stranger to stay a few days. Shortly thereafter, Spencer gets a promotion at work. Was David responsible? He certainly had a hand in stopping Laura and Spencer’s son Luke (Brendan Meyer) from being bullied in school, as evidenced by a gratifying scene in a bar.
But while the family’s daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) certainly finds David to be a tall drink of water (especially when he is seen in only a towel leaving the bathroom), she soon suspects something is hinky about him. She’s not wrong.
While The Guest is, like David, ingratiating when he is doing acts of kindness for the family, the film teeters on the brink of wearing out its welcome when David murders a pair of guys for some guns he wants to buy. Other acts of violence perpetrated by David also seem a bit extreme. Yes, the guy is intense, but his amorality seems to arise out of nowhere. The explanation for his actions comes late in the film, and if audiences buy into it, The Guest really satisfies.
Written by Simon Barrett (see sidebar) and directed by Adam Wingard (the guys did You’re Next and the original V/H/S together), the film gets more over-the-top with extended shootout and a finale in a Halloween maze. As it builds to its climax, the film unfortunately slackens a bit.
However, The Guest benefits from the sly performance by Dan Stevens. Changing his Downton Abbey image completely, the actor may ooze heroic charm to those who meet David, but there is a real sinister quality buried not too deeply beneath. In one of the film’s more ironic moments, he apologies to someone he just killed. Stevens plays this throwaway line as if David was indeed, being sincere. It’s a nice touch.
Alas, Maika Monroe, who plays Anna, is a bit stiff in her key role. The Guest might have had more charge if there had been some palpable heat between her character and the handsome, devilish stranger. As it is, however, the film still provides plenty of thrills and B-movie appeal.