The Guest

| December 26, 2014

When Dan Stevens left Downton Abbey, how many people were heartbroken? I vividly remember the night that Matthew Crawley’s last episode aired and how my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with grief and despair. Oh lord, how everyone cried. It was a sad day indeed for fans of Downton Abbey. Knowing that The Guest would soon be a thing, though, sure as hell would have softened the blow of his departure considerably. Personally, had I known that Dan Stevens was destined to leave one of the most addictive series I’ve ever marathoned a season of to make this very picture, I’d have been emailing Julian Fellowes nightly begging him to kill Matthew off in the Great War to speed along The Guest’s completion.

Even as director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett were promoting their 2011 feature, You’re Next, they were also off in New Mexico shooting The Guest—a sleek, smart throwback to the action movies of the 80s I grew up on, and with a rad synth score to match. The Guest does for that era’s sort of action-drama what You’re Next before it did for the home invasion picture: it makes this old formula fresh and more exciting than ever before.

In The Guest, Dan Stevens plays David Collins, a soldier who pays an extended visit to a fallen comrade’s family. While ostensibly there to help, David’s brand of terse, violent assistance combined with the rash of unexplained deaths surrounding the family cause their daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, The Bling Ring) to question David’s motives, not to mention his identity. Things inevitably come to a head in the film’s climax, when all about David is revealed and Dan Stevens goes full fucking badass! Take him out of the lavish halls of Downton, remove the tux, and give him a bagful of machine guns and you’d hardly recognize the man. He’s a mad-eyed, ruthless killing machine. And proud though he damn well should be of his work on Downton, this is the work for which he’ll always be remembered by this reviewer.

The thing is, though, the film has a hell of a lot more to offer than just Stevens as a hardcore badass. Wingard and Barrett do one thing that I for one surely haven’t seen done before in any film: they set it in the desert during Halloween. No falling leaves here, just sand and parched shrubbery serving as a backdrop for the jack-o-lanterns and other related seasonal decor. It makes for a wholly unique cinematic experience of this iconic film holiday—one that’s not changed much onscreen since John Carpenter gave us leaf-covered streets in Halloween (1978).

This adds an unprecedented complexity to the menace that Halloween represents in any given film. It’s constantly fading away amidst scenery we’re not accustomed to seeing used as backdrop for the holiday. So we forget about it. And then suddenly it’s back in an array of jack-o-lanterns or incongruous fall-colored leaf decorations plastered all over a window. More than that, though, the use of Halloween provides us with the most brilliantly-motivated action set piece of the film, as the final showdown takes place amidst the twists and turns of a Halloween-themed maze established for the local high school’s Halloween dance, paying wonderful homage to Wingard and Barrett’s horror roots.

The Guest, for all its delicious, unrestrained badassery, receives my most passionate recommendation. Personally, I’ve already watched it three times in the last week and a half and I’m honestly not even remotely tired of it. If you’re just dying to see Dan Stevens lay waste to everyone who crosses his path (and you should be), The Guest is currently available to Digital HD, but it’ll also be available in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack on January 6, 2015 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. By way of special features, the home video release includes deleted scenes, a Q & A with Dan Stevens, and feature commentary with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).

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