During the mid-’80s, you could walk into a theater blindfolded, take your seat, and do nothing more than briefly listen to the soundtrack before you knew for a fact that you were watching a John Carpenter film. The score, the audible cues – they were a fast giveaway. In fact, if you sit down and watch an ’80s Carpenter film now, you will immediately see and hear that same time frame it was released in. The biggest compliment I can give The Guest is that when you take your seat, you will feel like this film is not an homage, but some ridiculously fun, unknown classic from the same era as Escape From New York that someone finally had the nerve to release to the unsuspecting public.
The Guest stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as David, a charming stranger who arrives randomly one day on the front porch of the Peterson family home. The Peterson’s are still distraught over losing their son, Caleb, to the war in Afghanistan, and when David shows up claiming to be a fellow soldier as well as David’s best friend, they are afforded some vicarious relief. Inviting him into their home, their lives are about to change exponentially.
Mom (Sheila Kelley) is barely holding things together, while Dad (Leland Orser) has become a seasoned drinker to cope with the loss. Caleb’s brother, Luke (Brendan Meyer), is being habitually targeted by bullies at school. Lastly, sister Anna (Maika Monroe), is sick of the pouting and just wants life to return to the normalcy it was before Caleb passed away. The Peterson’s are in dire straits.
Thankfully, this is where the family melodrama ends and the insane action-thriller begins. As David assimilates with the Peterson’s, he becomes a savior of the family. Offering a big brother to Anna, comfort for Mom and Dad, and even taking down Luke’s meat-headed tormentors in what may be the best bar fight scene since Patrick Swayze cooled things down way back in Roadhouse. All of that changes when a curious Anna contacts the Army and finds out that David actually died two weeks prior. From this point forward, hell is unleashed.
It simply must be said that Dan Stevens is absolutely electrifying as David. His piercing blue eyes and sardonic smile are exactly what keeps this train firmly on the tracks, keeping you invested even when things get a little crazy, and he is infinitely fun to watch. His quiet, calm demeanor which can instantly flip to killing-machine-rage had me bouncing in my seat with fist-pumping delight. Walking into The Guest, you could not have convinced me that Mr. Abbey Stevens could play an effective badass. Walking out, I am convinced I would take flight in terror if I ever caught him smirking mischievously behind me. Dan Stevens is danger wrapped in saintly skin and I need to see him in more films like this immediately.
The You’re Next collaborators of writer, Simon Barrett, and director, Adam Wingard, have taken their craft to the next level. You’re Next was a fun film, but it never quite reached the heights it set for itself, though it did succeed in giving us another top-notch lead performance in Sharni Vinson. Something they have wonderfully duplicated here, yet again. Over the years, we have seen numerous films attempt to recapture that 80’s spirit and most fail spectacularly. Not The Guest, not even a little. Even with a third act that has a few too many cheesy plot contrivances, The Guest feels like it was filmed with 80’s action fans firmly in mind, and at no point during the film do they ever break away from this fantastically giddy momentum.
If you love these types of genre films like I do, there is just no chance for disappointment here. From the amazing score by Steve Moore (perfectly emulating that synth-tone from films like Terminator and They Live), to the sharply focused writing of Barrett, capped off by the well-executed ramping up of tension and action by Wingard – The Guest is easily one of the most intensely entertaining experiences I have had at a theater this year. Do yourselves a favor and seek David out now…before HE finds you.
4 stars out of 5.