The Guest – Film Review

Dan Stevens stars in a post-modern shocker from You're Next director Adam Wingard

Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey couldn’t be further from the ITV costume drama in the latest twisted horror flick from director Adam Wingard. Following up his cult home invasion shocker You’re Next, the horror maestro casts Stevens for dark belly laughs as David, a soldier returning from conflict in the Middle East eager to connect with the family of a fallen comrade. He’s got dying last words of love to deliver. At least, that’s his story. The stiff upper-lipped Lord Matthew from Downton is replaced by a badass who snarls, “I’m a soldier man! I like guns…”

But before the mysterious veteran goes loco he’s sweetness and light to the family his best mate never came home to. With mum grieving, dad hitting the bottle, the geeky younger brother Luke (Brendan Meyer) getting bullied at school and his sister Anna (Maika Monroe) partying hard; the supporting cast are primed as cannon fodder for the inevitable kill fest to come. But which members of David’s human shield will survive? Wingard’s post-modern approach plays for laughs with knowing close ups framing the steely glint in Stevens’ eye when the family discuss a series of “accidental deaths” occurring in the town.

Wingard’s film is a firework with a slow burning fuse until the penny drops about David’s past. Busting bully heads at Luke’s school he jokes, “Go round their houses at night and burn ‘em down with their families inside!” And when he starts fondling his knife and smirking to camera think Jason Bourne meets Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees. Amnesiac assassin or psycho killer? It’s a role Stevens relishes. Brilliantly tongue in cheek and revelling in its exploitation flick roots Wingard’s characters ham it up with gusto. Lance Reddick (Cedric Daniels in The Wire) delivers a cool turn as a government spook tracking down his volatile asset David.

The film premiered at the Sundance film festival earlier this year where the director said he got the idea for the film after watching Terminator and Halloween back to back. Their influence cuts through the story as a synthesized soundtrack takes the nudge and wink further with ominous stabbing chords (just like John Carpernter’s in Assault on Precinct 13) heralding the carnage to come. Wingard digs in the crates adding osbscure gems from the likes of Danish ‘darkwave’ rockers Clan of Xymox and Sisters of Mercy mixing in further 80s spice to the sinister vibes.

A balletic and bullet-riddled denouement proves this is a game changer for Stevens who was previously known for being reserved not kicking ass. It’s a part that could see him eyed as a successor to Daniel Craig for the role of 007 in years to come. At times the film’s knowing archness can feel too forced but the cheesy nods to old school horror lore with a hall of mirrors Halloween maze, ballsy heroine (Monroe) and inventive kill scenes are executed with panache.