Watch it with us: Netflix streaming
I’m not going to spoil anything important about the fantastic Adam Wingard film The Guest. But if you want the optimum first viewing experience, stop reading right here and go watch it right now. Are you back? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
The Peterson family is mourning the recent death of their oldest son, Caleb, a soldier who was killed in combat. One day a stranger named David (Dan Stevens) knocks on their door, claiming to have served in the same unit as Caleb. He has nowhere else to go so they invite him to stay the night. Gradually David gets to know all four family members and manages to charm them while raising more and more questions, with us and with them, about who he is and where he came from. The Petersons’ 20-year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) is the first to realize David is not who he says he is, but by then he has his hooks into every member of the family, including her.
For sheer entertainment value, The Guest is hard to beat. It combines a fairly familiar premise—an appealing-yet-dangerous stranger comes to town—with a tone I’ve only encountered in other Adam Wingard films. He and writer Simon Barrett also worked together on You’re Next, which has the same unique aura of genuine menace combined with bone-dry humor. The film’s first action set piece plays out in a way that’s both hilarious and alarming, giving us a glimpse of what David is really capable of while also capturing the inanity of high school politics and masculine ego posturing. Wingard acknowledges the tropes inherent in the genre without spoofing them—for all the fun it’s having, The Guest is surprisingly sincere, and the stakes are life and death. The yearning synth-pop soundtrack contributes to this and reminds me of another great visionary thriller, Drive. And casting Dan Stevens as the mysterious David is a stroke of genius. Stevens is pure old-school Hollywood heartthrob, rugged and courtly and drop-dead sexy, daring you not to be charmed by him even as his actions become more and more questionable.
I’ve danced around as many plot points as possible, but having just watched The Guest for the second time in a year, I can now say it loses nothing even if you know where the story is going. It’s stylish, sexy, funny, and totally terrifying.
Ashley Wells watches too many movies and welcomes recommendations for more. Leave her one here or on Twitter: @ashleybwells. Spoiler alert: she has already seen Troll 2.