I must admit that I do not watch Downton Abbey, so I was completely unfamiliar with Dan Stevens as an actor outside of a forgettable role in a forgettable movie, The Fifth Estate. Perhaps my unawareness of Stevens worked in his favor, because he is a downright badass in The Guest, a new mystery/action/thriller from Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the guys who succeeded in making home invasion thrillers fun with You're Next. The Guest kicks so much ass and has a such fun doing so, I completely forgave its flaws and actually embraced its loose ends.
The film opens on a man running along a quiet road with a military backpack; his breathing is rhythmic. The camera pushes closer to the back of his head as his breathes become more focused. Methodical even. Who is this guy? Is he good or bad? Where is he running to? Then BRAHHHHMMMMM!!!! The title card. Right then, I knew I was going to like this movie.
Turns out, the head belongs to a man who shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, a stereotypical if dysfunctional group who is still mourning the loss of their son, Caleb, who was killed at war. The man, who says his name is David (Dan Stevens), claims that he was a friend to their son during the war and that he promised to deliver Caleb's wishes to his family upon his return home. The Petersons, desperate for stories about their son, invite David in to spend the afternoon.
David disarms everyone with his devastatingly good looks and southern charm. In one scene, he helps Luke Peterson (Brendan Meyer) with his homework. In another, he consoles Anna Peterson (Maika Monroe) over a fight with her boyfriend. This leads the family to welcome David for an extended stay to play the vacant role of big brother. But there's something more to him. Something sinister.
To spill any more of the plot would spoil all of the fun to be had in The Guest, as the allure lies entirely in Dan Stevens' performance and his character's motivations. But let's put it this way... he does two things: kick ass and chew bubble gum. And he's alllllll out of bubble gum, nahwhaImsayin? Add to that a standout 80s electropop soundtrack and you've got a perfect way to pass 99 minutes.
The Guest is Drive if it were more self-aware and infused with The Terminator. Given my adoration for both of those movies, I had a lot of fun with this one. Some will have trouble reconciling that some key reasons for David's existence are left unsaid, but I love that it didn't try to over-explain things.
Plain and simple: if you're looking for a tongue-in-cheek actioner that delivers, look no further than The Guest.
8.5 out of 10