Still struggling over the loss of their oldest son, Caleb, to the war in Afghanistan, the Peterson family finds some solace when an unexpected visitor knocks on their door. David (Dan Stevens) a steely eyed and charismatic soldier who was recently discharged, is welcomed into their home when he comes to fulfill a promise he made to his fallen comrade. Siblings Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer) are at first reluctant to accept David’s presence, but he soon wins them over by scoring kegs for Anna’s friends and roughing up some bullies from Luke’s school. Though he appears to be the perfect houseguest, a seemingly unexplainable and sinister chain of events causes Anna to question whether David is actually who he claims to be.
Dan Stevens explodes onto the scene with one of the best performances of the year as the mysterious David. His warm eyes but cold stare bring similarities to Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive, while newcomer Maika Monroe impresses as Anna, the hesitant daughter and Brendan Meyer convinces as Luke, the impressionable bully victim who sees David as a role model. This impressive cast of relative nobodies means that the first half is a joy to watch unfold and evolve, rather than hope for the action to arrive. The weakest link is Lance Reddick (best known for his work in HBO’s police drama The Wire) as Agent Carver who overdoes the performance. He’s usually seen in more subtle roles, where he’s giving the “I’m not angry, just disappointed” talks, but here, he’s expected to be the action hero and he doesn’t quite cut it.
Again, much like Drive (but not to its trailers misleading extent) The Guest is a much slower affair (at least for the first hour) than the previews suggest. Fortunately, the duo of screenwriter Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard use the runtime wisely to develop each character effectively so that when the pace does pick up, it actually means something. The comparisons to Drive don’t stop at the lead actor – the 80’s inspired synth pop soundtrack would seamlessly integrate into either movie.
The most intriguing part about The Guest is that its plot veers in so many directions that hard to categorise into a specific genre. It has elements and conventions of a number of different ones, including drama, thriller, sci-fi and even horror. Given Barrett and Wingard’s experience (their last movie was 2013’s home invasion horror You’re Next), the climactic scenes are scarier than they would be if the film was in less capable hands. This mashup of genres could be jarring for many, but if you invite its madness in and welcome it with an open mind, then The Guest is easily one of the most enjoyable movies of the year.