FORMER “Downton Abbey” star Dan Stevens plays the title role in “The Guest”, a thriller about a war veteran named David who pops up unannounced to visit the home of a family, the Petersons, in rural New Mexico. He claims that their late soldier son, Caleb, was his good friend in Afghanistan.
He says that he’s just passing by and only wants to let them know that Caleb loves them very much. Very courteous and with a disarming personality, he quickly charms the mother, Laura (Sheila Kelley), who is still grieving and insists that he stays with them for a while. He also quickly earns the trust of the dad, Spencer (Leland Orser), who even offers their guest some beer.
The Peterson’s other children are Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer). Luke comes home with a bruised face and when David learns it’s caused by bullies in school, he helps Luke get back at his tormentors and beats them all up. He later goes with Anna to a party where he rescues her friend, Kristen (Tabatha Shaun), from her abusive boyfriend.
Anna’s boyfriend, Zeke (Chase Williamson), is a drug pusher and David frames him up so he’d be arrested. Anna becomes suspicious and calls up the military base where David says he comes from and she is told that David is already dead. A military officer called Major Carver (Lance Reddick) learns about this and assembles a special team of soldiers to get the fake David from the home of the Petersons.
Things get very complicated for the Petersons from here on and soon, both Anna and Luke have to defend themselves from David who becomes a predator wanting to kill their whole family. The true identity of David is revealed and it seems he’s really programmed to kill anyone who might reveal who he really is.
At barely an hour and a half, the film is fast-paced and gets to the point right away. At first, you’d really think that Dan as David is the good guy, but as things get ugly, you realize that he is turning out to be the main antagonist. The script by writer Simon Barrett properly establishes the mounting suspense and Director Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”) surely knows how to make his sure-footed way around it.
Dan Stevens is just amazing in the title role. He drops his English accent for a Southern one and it’s seamless. He starts polite and well mannered with his baby blue eyes, but eventually becomes the sinister, truly menacing interloper with his compelling presence. He’s definitely far from the wholesome heartthrob from “Downton Abbey” that made lots of female viewers swoon.
The production design gives the movie a campy flavor, what with the story set just before Halloween so we see much spooky decor around like ghosts and jack-o-lanterns. The climax itself happens in a haunted house kind of setting with a hall of magic mirrors that’s meant to make you scream with fright. Perfect viewing for this coming Halloween season.