It’s always a bit of risk when
the filmmakers go for “sexy/creepy.”
There’s a push/pull kind of dynamic in this
film that seeks to draw in the viewers to a character who’s deliberately
Dan Stevens, familiar to viewers
of the popular television series “Downton Abbey,” plays The Guest, a man
who calls himself David.
He just knocks on the front door of a family
he’s never met before, and introduces himself as a former Army buddy of
their son, who’d died in
seems sincere, and is unfailingly polite and respectful, and certainly says
all the right things to the still-grieving family (“he wanted me to tell
each of you that he loved you very much”).
The Mom, Laura (Sheila Kelley), is especially
enamored of David’s disarming charm, to the extent that she invites him to
stay at the house, a prospect not exactly welcomed by her husband Spencer
(Leland Orser), or their teenage kids, Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan
even invites David to stay in their son’s old room, and when the camera pans
to his face looking sinister when he’s alone in there, we, too, are
wondering if this guy is really who he represents himself to be.
Suddenly this sleepy town begins
to experience some head-shaking violence, which completely baffles the local
man who made Regional Manager above Spencer is suddenly found dead in his
home, an apparent murder/suicide pact with his also-deceased wife, and Spencer
is over the shock sooner than you can say “I got a promotion.”
Next, Anna’s drug-dealing not-so-secret
boyfriend is suddenly arrested “because of an anonymous tip,” and, not
surprisingly, is found with drugs in his vehicle.
David continues to be winsome and
low-key with the family, even to the point of picking up Luke from school,
where he finds out who’s been bullying Luke, and guess what:
the bullies themselves wind up hurt.
We’re beginning to suspect this David guy is
“The Fixer,” the one who solves all the family’s problems by being so
helpfully violent. In
this, he’s a bit like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character (miscast on the
silver screen by Tom Cruise).
He never loses a fight.
And he seems to find one easily.
Anna is the one beginning to get
creeped out, especially when she does some checking at the Army base where
David says he was discharged, and her inquiry immediately raises an alarm that
produces mysterious government agents in riot gear roaring up in black SUVs.
(Jack Reacher, also, had some mysterious
government former black ops connection, but at least they aren’t actively
hunting him down.)
Of course, David on full alert and in
commando mode is a force to be reckoned with, and now we’ve somehow made a
left turn from home-invasion-drama-with-a-twist to old-fashioned gunfight at
the OK Corral (Wyatt Earp and company enjoyed their bad dude reputation,
Dan Stevens possess enough natural
charm to pull off this complex character, and almost achieves a
tongue-in-cheek kind of self-parody when he’s chasing the not-so-hapless
teenagers through the house of horrors on Halloween.
Yes, there’s lots of homage to horror cinema,
perhaps even too self-consciously.
But Stevens has the chops to carry this dark
action-figure role, keeping the viewer guessing about both who he is and what
he’s capable of doing.
Those, of course, are the basic questions which
define us all. But
not all of us are Fixers Without A Conscience.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,