The Guest (2014)
***Spoliers avoided where possible***
Having read many good reviews of this film by fellow bloggers, it was on my Christmas list for 2015. Last night, it came off the shelf, and into the DVD player. I confess that I was a little concerned as it began. Knowing something of the plot, I expected my sometime reactions of ‘seen it all before’, and ‘probably overrated’.
But I was wrong.
Sometimes, the casting of a film can turn it from so what, into convincing and believable In this film, the casting is near-flawless, and as a result, lifts the film high above many similar action thrillers that I could mention. Dan Stevens is an English actor, well-known for a central role in the TV series, ‘Downton Abbey’. I spent much of this film wondering who he was, as he plays such a different part, and does so very well indeed. The rest of the cast members are mostly unknown to me, which made it all the more enjoyable, as I was not constantly thinking of them in other roles. It is a little difficult to review this film properly without completely ruining it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but I will do my best.
A family is grieving the loss of their oldest son Caleb, killed during military service in the middle east. The Mum is doing her best, the Dad struggling at work, and the youngest son is bullied at school. The sexy young daughter is working hard at a local diner; saving her money to go to college, but also hanging around with her dodgy drug-dealer boyfriend, much to the irritation of her parents. One day, a handsome man appears at the door. He tells the lady of the house that he had served with her son in the army, and knew him well. He promised the son that he would check in on his family when he got back to America, and make sure that they were doing OK. The new arrival is called David (Dan Stevens) and he is polite, respectful, and very charming.
Caleb’s Mum is keen to hear something of her son, and invites David into the house. When she discovers that he has made the journey all the way just to see her, she asks him to stay, offering him Caleb’s room. At first, the rest of the family are not so keen. The Dad worries that they don’t know him, and the younger son is uncomfortable around him. The daughter heads off to work, hoping he won’t be staying too long. David proves them all wrong. He chats to the dad over drinks, helps Mum around the house, and even drives to the school to collect the boy. When he finds out who is bullying him, he wreaks vengeance on the bullies, and instills some self-respect in the son at the same time.
The Dad decides that David is a great bloke, and offers to let him stay as long as he wants. Even the daughter mellows, and takes him to a party where he meets her boyfriend and other mates, and also gets off with her friend from work. Pretty soon, everyone loves David being around.
The viewer sees another side to the man though. Switching off smiles as easily as they came, hardly sleeping, and staring intently into space. We are left in no doubt that this man has a dark secret, almost from the very start. People start to get killed. The Dad’s new boss is found dead, apparently after committing suicide. This is actually great news for the family, as the Dad is promoted to the job he has wanted for so long. When the son fights back against the bullies, David arrives to stop him being expelled, casually intimidating the principal into a lesser punishment.
The film then moves up a gear, and then another one. After the scene-setting, the action begins to come thick and fast. Tension is nicely built, and as the family members start to suspect something might be wrong, the military special forces become involved, and the finale is fast-paced and explosive.
And it has a great ending too!
This film treads familiar ground, then mixes all that together into an amalgam of plots and ideas we might have seen before. But then it does it much better. Think ‘Rambo’, ‘The Bourne Identity’, even ‘Terminator 2’, and add in a few teen slashers, and you will get the idea. It is not a landmark film, and the direction and storyline are all familiar. But it is hugely enjoyable, violent, and at times even witty. It presumes an intelligent viewer, as it gives the nods and winks to so many other similar films, then changes the rules. Thoroughly entertaining, and worth a second watch.