The Guest (2014)

Posted by Joel Copling on October 1, 2014

With expert ease and enough tension that one would have difficulty cutting with the proverbial knife, "The Guest" makes absolutely certain that its titular visitor is menacing enough with or without a gimmick or justification. Simon Barrett's screenplay is clever until the end, even as the third act takes on a different type of cleverness than the first two held. For a while, there is mystique surrounding this particular character. The veil is lifted before long to uncover the man behind the cold, blank, piercingly blue-eyed stare, and while the film might take a more conventional route to get to its pitiless stinger of a final shot, it's still such a nervy build-up to the carnage that the film works its way under the viewer's skin.

I will get to the visitor in a moment, but first, it is crucial to zero in on the family into whose house he settles himself rather comfortably. The Petersons are a well-to-do family in the middle of Everytown, USA. There is the father, Spencer (Leland Orser), who is struggling to get a promotion at work. There is the mother, Laura (Sheila Kelley), who is simply trying to cope with unimaginable loss. There is the older child, a daughter named Anna (Maika Monroe) who works nights at the diner. There is the younger child, a son named Luke (Brendan Meyer) who is bullied and particularly adept at computer-related activities. One of their number has left them forever: a firstborn and son named Caleb, who was in the Army until his untimely death.

Into their lives walks David (Dan Stevens), who claims to have been in the same platoon as Caleb and gotten to know him very well. His visit is unannounced and, for Anna, unwelcome, as it is a living, breathing reminder of the loss with which her family are trying to deal. But he's a total gentleman, ingratiating himself well into the family. He has a secret, though, and Stevens is pants-wettingly unnerving, with his insanely blue eyes, sly grin, and the occasional blank-slate visage; this is a great performance of cunning and attitude and fairly stunning physicality. Nothing but the most curious and sinister of acts unsettles David, yet the possibility of his blank slate leading to explosive, violent behavior is something with which Stevens and director Adam Wingard tease us constantly; the actual explosion (which, you better believe, comes) is glorious to behold.

This is a crisp, tense 99 minutes, leaving all of the contrivance in the concluding thirty to ratchet the tension of an unwelcome housemate. Has he really come from the same platoon as their dearly departed son and brother? Are his intentions pure? Why is he so adept at physical combat that he seems to move and think faster than the speed of normal human response? Who is the military man (Lance Reddick) who answers the daughter's plea for help, and why must he bring a team of killers with him to this small suburb? Some of these questions are inherently more interesting than others, as are the answers, but "The Guest" is an intimidatingly concise thriller with personality and bite.

Film Information

Dan Stevens (David), Maika Monroe (Anna Peterson), Brendan Meyer (Luke Peterson), Sheila Kelley (Laura Peterson), Leland Orser (Spencer Peterson), Lance Reddick (Maj. Carver), Tabatha Shaun (Kristen), Chase Williamson (Zeke), Joel David Moore (Craig), Stephen Brown (Mike), Brenden Wedner (Ian), Alex Knight (Mr. Lyles), Ethan Embry (Higgings).

Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett.

Rated R (violence, language, drug use, sexuality).

99 minutes.

Released in select cities on September 17, 2014.