Dan Stevens ditches his Downton image in Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's superlative psychothriller
Taking gasoline and a match to his drippy Downton Abbey image, Dan Stevens reinvents himself in genuinely gobsmacking style. He's the titular houseguest: a soldier with a mysterious past, Terminator-like fighting skills and a knowing smirk. Directed and edited by Adam Wingard with a script by Simon Barrett (they're the pair behind smart slasher You're Next), The Guest is a thriller which boasts all the fun of the fair; it's also that thing of rare beauty, a film that combines B-movie gratification with A-grade filmmaking flair.
When David (Stevens) unexpectedly shows up at the home of the Petersons he seems, well, nice. He's the friend of their deceased soldier son, Caleb, as evidenced by a photo on their mantelpiece, and quickly proves indispensable to Caleb's grieving mother (Sheila Kelley) and bullied brother Luke (Brendan Meyer). His sister Anna (the excellent Maika Monroe) is less convinced, despite finding David powerfully sexy (she's bowled back when he emerges dripping from the shower, preceded by a hot blast of steam).
The filmmakers clearly know the subgenre but The Guest is less an authentic 80s psycho-thriller than a film which fetishises the decade à la Nicolas Winding Refn, setting it apart from that which it emulates. Moreover it's unafraid to bring in diverse influences if they add value to this disgracefully entertaining carnival of carnage: Stevens smoulders to a John Carpenter-esque synth score and there's a John Woo-echoing shootout.
The Petersons are a family you can get behind, adding considerable tension to proceedings as David's antics escalate. From glowering to literally charming the pants off women, Stevens visibly relishes every second of his blue-eyed bad boy's screen-time; it's a brilliantly perverse casting coup enhanced by Barrett's devilish dialogue, while Wingard directs with flamboyance and precision. Put 'em together and a cult classic is born.
Selected release from Fri 5 Sep.