Main cast: Dan Stevens (David Andersen Collins), Maika Monroe (Anna Peterson), Brendan Meyer (Luke Peterson), Sheila Kelley (Laura Peterson), Leland Orser (Spencer Peterson), Tabatha Shaun (Kristen), Chase Williamson (Zeke Hastings), and Lance Reddick (Major Richard Carver)
Director: Adam Wingard
The Peterson family is still trying to get over the death of Caleb, the eldest boy who went off to serve in Afghanistan and died on duty. Then, one fine day, Laura Peterson opens the door to a quiet and well spoken fellow who introduces himself as David Collins, who served alongside Caleb, and he says that he’s here to fulfill his promise to Caleb and check whether the family is okay. Laura can only invite her son’s friend to stay for a while, and soon, her husband Spencer goes along too after bonding with Caleb over some beer. Caleb’s sister Anna is slower to warm up to David, but her brother Luke looks up to David after David takes care of the bullies who target him at school.
While David may seem like a nice fellow, the movie makes sure that I get “telling” scenes of Dan Stevens glowering at the camera, a way to beat me in the head that this fellow isn’t just not who he claims to be, he may just not be completely right in the hand. Sure enough, David is soon killing people, sometimes to help advance his new family’s fortune, sometimes just because. When he decides that the suspicious Anna is being too nosy for her own good, that’s when the fun really begins.
The Guest doesn’t have a new story to tell, as tales of homicidal room mates, house mates, whatever have been around for ages, and most of its scenes are actually easy to see coming from a mile away. However, the movie acts like I’ve never seen these things before, hence a heavy-handed script by Simon Barrett that tries very hard to let me know that David is not a good guy. See him glower at the camera for a few minutes – that’s a sign that he’s mean, see? See him scowl very obviously in what must be the “mad man about to strike” mode before he puts on a smile again! The movie also tries to sell David as this erotic figure, hence a slow lingering shot of him wearing only a towel. The movie telegraphs everything so obviously, which is not a good thing when its very premise is already an overdone one.
Now, I appreciate that shot, and I have to admit that Dan Stevens is so easy on the eyes, but he’s kind of miscast here. Then again, I wasn’t too impressed with him when he was on Downton Abbey, so maybe it’s just his poor man’s Paul Walker mojo not working on me. He exudes as much sex appeal as a potato in this movie, and his mannerisms all mark him so obviously as someone who is certainly not right in the head that it’s a stretch to imagine how he can get away with what he is with the adult Peterson family members for so long, even if they are clouded by grief over Caleb’s death. David is far more believable as a deadly killer, but to pull off what he does here, that character needs to be both charming and deadly. The charm is missing here. David is just… weird from the get go. He has his appeal – a homicidal maniac who would kill people just for me is actually an intriguing idea – but it’s an appeal that the movie is not aiming for.
Also, the last 40 minutes or so of the movie is laughably absurd in how over the top the whole thing is.
Still, the movie is well-paced and the scenes meant to be suspenseful or just plain violent do their job very well. It’s a shame that the movie doesn’t come together as well as it should, because David could have been the homicidal maniac to adore and remember if the movie had played its cards right.