THE GUEST (2013)

Running Time: 99 mins.                      Rating: x Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Adam Wingard

Genre: Thriller

Country: USA

Language: English

Distributor: Picturehouse

Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Ethan Embry, Joel David Moore, Candice Patton, Lance Reddick, Leland Orser, Sheila Kelley, Brendan Meyer, Tara Elliott, Jesse Luken


If you were fortunate enough to have seen the director’s 2011 movie YOU’RE NEXT, you’ll say THE GUEST is right up Adam Wingard’s alley.  YOU’RE NEXT features a group of toughs, ax murderers in fact, who invade a family reunion, and whose victims are ready to say their prayers when one of their number proves equally adept at killing.  The title guest of Wingard’s latest—scripted by Simon Barrett who was on Wingard’s team for YOU’RE NEXT and took a hand at writing  V/H/S—is as charming as Ted Bundy and just as psychopathic.  He oozes his way into an upscale family’s beautifully decorated house in the fictional town of Moriarty, New Mexico, getting their sympathies by identifying himself as the best friend of one Caleb, who died in Iraq.  He is so polite, throwing out “Sir” and “Ma’am” and “I-don’t-want-to-impose” that of course he is asked to stay for a few days.  Calling himself David (Dan Stevens—from “Downtown Abbey”), the guest wins the trust of Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley), her husband Spencer (Leland Orser), 20-year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) and especially high-school student Luke Peterson (Brendan Meyer).  In the last case, David makes mincemeat of four bullies who had regularly taunted the dorky Luke by provoking them in a bar and taking revenge.  How can we in the audience not sympathize with a fellow who wants only to protect the clan?

Barrett’s script is loaded with wit and daring, as when David intimidates the principal of Moriarty High School when the latter orders Luke’s expulsion for fighting back against a bully.  The repartee is so clever that it would be a shame to reproduce it here: you’ve got to see the movie to appreciate it. And, did I say that we in the audience favor David with our sympathy despite our knowing from the start that he is impersonating someone and despite his killing a virtual army of machine-gun toting government men?

David is a guy who any family might want to hang out with.  David not only dispatches four bullies who tormented Luke.  He made sure that Spencer, the man of the house, achieves his dream of getting promoted to regional manager, and he does this in a matter of one day while Spencer had to spend years kissing up to his boss for the promotion.  Too bad young Anna burrows into the business by calling the military to check whether David is the person he claims to be, and having the naivete to confront the guest about what she finds.

The physical violence is kid’s play compared to the way that David unleashes the dogs of war in the second part of the movie.  His firepower consists not only of guns of every description but two hand grenades as well.  He is confronted by a team of sharpshooters, and in a blazing, climactic scene lays waste to the small army.

The critic from Variety is puzzled about David’s motive in hiking to the Peterson family home, but I would interpret his action as the need of a man with superhuman strength to be the protector of its occupants.  The picture is anchored by Dan Stevens’ charismatic role as an impossibly handsome, charming, and muscular individual who, as the military police explain, derived his powers in a most unusual way.  Look not only for a sequel to THE GUEST but to Dan Stevens’ appearance in future roles or all kinds.


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