All I knew about The Guest going in was that this was one of the first starring roles by Dan Stevens since he jumped ship (or rather crashed his car), leaving red-hot Downton Abbey. How would this pretty-boy, so very very swoon-worthy and noble in period pieces, do on the big screen? It didn't bode well when I saw his pretty blue eyes on the poster for The Guest, which, at least as far as marketing goes, had the look and feel of an 80s-style horror movie about a bad guest that just... won't... go away.
Count me surprised that The Guest is a hoot.
Right from the start, I was scratching my head. A young man (Stevens) is running across a field in desert fatigues, and a military duffel strapped to his back. He huffs and puffs anonymously then... (film cuts) "THE GUEST" explodes onto the screen with an over-the-top booming soundtrack. The audience giggled. What the hell was this? (BTW, the booming ominous soundtrack shows up a few more times in the movie to make sure you know that no good is going on.)
This very pretty, very scruffy, very hot (in more ways than one) guy shows up at the door of a house cloaked in sadness. Mrs. Peterson (Sheila Kelley) opens the door, and the polite young man introduces himself as David, who just got out of the military. David knew the Petersons' son who died on his tour of duty, and David just got out yesterday. Mrs. Peterson quickly asks, would he like to stay until he gets his bearings and makes a plan? Well, yes, that would be nice. Thank you ma'am.
David appeals to Mr. Peterson (Leland Orser, who steals all his scenes) almost immediately. Their son Luke (Brendan Meyer) is slightly more hesitant, but is won over as David quickly works his way into a big-brother role, teaching the misfit kid some tricks of self-preservation. But big sister Anna (Maika Monroe) is the first one to question the motives and past of this hot stranger who seems to have seduced her entire family in one fell swoop. Something ain't right.
Without giving anything away, at the halfway mark The Guest suddenly takes a huge right turn from simmering suspicion into crazy-town territory. Several plot points are so outrageous and extreme (let's just say that bodies start piling up) that the audience was cackling in disbelief.
But The Guest knows it is being over-the-top, in a cornball ode-to-80s-slasher-flicks way. Suave psychopath David, with his sideways smirk, may as well turn and wink at the camera. For that matter, Dan Stevens gets full credit for making me forget Downton's sweet Matthew Crawley almost immediately. I never, ever would have hand-picked Stevens to star in a popcorn-horror movie like this one, but I have to admit I fully enjoyed the ride.