This review contains spoilers
The Story- Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley) receives an unexpected visit, when David (Dan Stevens) shows up on her doorstep one day. David introduces himself as a former soldier, and a friend of Laura’s son, Caleb. Caleb was killed in action, but David’s presence brings comfort, as he shares Caleb’s messages and final words. At first, David is reluctant to accept the invitation to stay with the Peterson family, but eventually he accepts the offer, and Laura allows David to sleep in Caleb’s old room.
Laura’s husband, Spencer (Leland Orser) and her teenage son, Luke (Brendan Meyer) quickly embrace David, as Spencer confides in and vents to David about his troubles at work, and David teaches Luke to stand up for himself as a big brother figure. For Laura, Spencer, and Luke, David is a breath of fresh air, but Laura and Spencer’s twenty year old daughter, Anna (Maika Monroe) refuses to buy into David’s goodwill mission.
Anna takes matters into her own hands, when she quietly decides to dig up more information on David. Meanwhile, David’s erratic behavior and his nasty mean streak are on full display, and at first, David’s actions are seemingly noble. A group of bullies torment and harass Luke, so David takes matters into his own hands. Anna’s friend, Kristen (Tabatha Shaun) has a tense run-in with her pushy ex-boyfriend, but David steps in to manhandle him.
David’s peculiar behavior raises more red flags, and unbeknownst to the Peterson family, a potentially fatal collision course threatens their lives, when Major Richard Carver (Lance Reddick), a man from David’s past, and a group of armed men arrive at the Peterson’s home. Laura, Spencer, Luke, Anna, her boyfriend, Zeke (Chase Williamson), her friend, Craig (Joel David Moore), and Kristen are all caught in the crossfire, as the mystery surrounding David unravels. Is David a misunderstood knight in shining armor? Or, is David hiding a shocking secret?
Review- The Petersons are a broken family. Laura is devastated over Caleb’s death, Luke is a target for a group of pesky bullies, and he’s an outcast at school. Spencer is an alcoholic, and he’s frustrated with his situation at work, and Anna is stuck in a crossroads dilemma. In the early stages of the movie, you might get the impression Anna is stuck in the rebellious teenager phase. She wants to have a beer before she turns twenty-one, and she chooses to date the sketchy boyfriend against her parent’s wishes. But as the story progresses, you’ll clearly see that’s not the case with Anna. She works a hard job, she’s saving money for college, she loves her family, and she’ll do anything to protect her brother. Anna has a lot of heart, and Monroe really nails the character with a solid performance.
David is charismatic and charming, with a soft southern accent, so of course you WANT to believe he’s the one to fill Caleb’s void, right? Dan Stevens knocks it out of the park with a convincing and good performance as David. He is the driving force behind the conflict surrounding the character. You want to believe David is this good guy, who showed up on the Peterson’s doorstep to lend a helping hand in their time of need. After all, David single-handedly eliminates the group of bullies during the fight at the bar, he steps in to stop Kristen’s ex-boyfriend after he refuses to take no for an answer, and he steps in to save Luke from expulsion after he gets into a fight with one of the bullies at school.
But as the story progresses, it’s clear something is off with David, and it’s clear he’s hiding something. The final pieces of the puzzle fall into place, when Major Carver finally tells Anna the truth: David was apart of a top secret military project, and he faked his death to escape, and David will kill anyone, who comprises or threatens his cover to protect the project. The friendly helper is a ruthless killing machine, and he murders Spencer, Laura, and Kristen in cold blood.
Stevens’ ability to quickly switch gears between the kind and caring David, and David The Assassin is impressive. He’s showing remorse before he does what he knows he has to do before killing Sarah and Spencer, and the fiasco in the Halloween maze and on the dance is something else, with David luring Carver into a trap, Anna turning the tables on David, luring him into a trap of her own, and Luke saving Anna’s life with David’s butterfly knife (a gift from David). And David’s reaction to Luke literally stabbing him in the back was priceless. He wasn’t mad, and he didn’t feel betrayed, because Luke did the right thing.
After the smoke clears, Anna and Luke are sitting together in the back of an ambulance as the sole survivors, a limping fireman emerges from the crime scene…..and it’s David. On one hand, I had my doubts about Luke finishing David off for good (the guy did survive an ambush from a group of armed men), but David surviving the two on one assault/last stand from Anna and Luke is still a great cliffhanger, because when you think about everything David endured (the attacks, the car crash, etc.), watching him limp away from the madness is truly shocking.
The Guest is a hard-hitting, bloody, and brutal action horror-thriller. The soundtrack is excellent, The Guest has an undeniable 80’s nostalgic vibe to it, and The Guest is more than a run-of-the-mill bloodbath, with an ordinary screenplay. There’s a good balance between the crisis within The Peterson Family, the thrilling and tense action sequences, the question marks surrounding David, and The Guest features characters with real depth, and they’re characters you can actually care about.
The slow burn approach to carefully and slowly unravel all the details in David’s mysterious past really works to set up an intriguing guessing game for David’s motives, because everything is not 100% clear until the tail end of the film. Stevens’ presence brings a natural cool factor to certain scenes (the events leading up to the big brawl at the bar, David giving Anna a little lecture after the party, etc.) throughout the movie, and the cliffhanger will surely annoy some people with complaints of absurdity, but I have to believe The Guest is on its way to earning a strong and indisputable reputation as a genuine cult classic with more time.