This review was originally published on January 25, 2014…
Army soldier Caleb Peterson recently died in Afghanistan, leaving his New Mexico based family in a state of shock. Caleb’s best friend from the Army, David (Dan Stevens), arrives at the Peterson house unexpectedly with the intention of delivering farewell messages to Caleb’s family. No one knows David and presumably Caleb never talked about him.
David’s saving grace is that he appears alongside Caleb in a photograph that is prominently showcased in a shrine to Caleb on the Peterson family mantle place. At first, Mrs. Peterson (Sheila Kelley) is the only one who sees the benefit of David’s company; Mr. Peterson (Leland Orser) and Caleb’s siblings — Luke (Brendan Meyer) and Anna (Maika Monroe) — are suspicious of the titular guest. Eventually, the rest of the Peterson clan warms up to him.
David looks like a model torn straight from the pages of GQ; even after running several miles, his hair remains perfectly in place. His impeccable abs and ability to carry two full beer kegs at once showcase David’s propensity for fitness. David’s unmatched attractiveness is topped with an ultra-polite, Midwestern, good ole boy persona.
However, it seems evident pretty early on that David is probably not exactly who he says that he is. David sometimes seems like an android or alien suffering from an occasional glitch or hiccup from its otherwise pitch-perfect demeanor; he is debonaire yet robotically frigid, sort of like Ryan Gosling cast as the Terminator. Just imagine Stevens’ character, Matthew Crawley, in Downton Abbey as a cool, calm and collected assassin, and you are about halfway there.
Adam Wingard’s The Guest purposefully starts off rather subdued as David masterfully ingratiates himself into the Peterson household. Eventually the story evolves into an ’80s-esque action flick that teeters on the verge of becoming parodic. The fight scenes are just as humorous as they are impressively choreographed, culminating in a visually orgasmic coup de grâce set in a haunted house. Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett have really outdone themselves with The Guest, with chilling black comedy and astounding visual panache it is the most fantastically entertaining action flick of recent memory; it might just be the most unexpected comedy of Sundance 2014.