Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick, Tabatha Shaun, Chase Williamson, Joel David Moore, Stephen Brown, Brenden Wedner, Alex Knight, Ethan Embry
Written by: Simon Barrett
Directed by: Adam Wingard
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality
Running Time: 99
Date: 09/19/2014

The Guest (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Unknown Soldier

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With his earlier films, including V/H/S, V/H/S/2, and You're Next, it appeared that director Adam Wingard was not much more than a horror fan happily paying tribute to the films he liked without any real interest becoming his own filmmaker. But with The Guest, he has finally stepped up and created something that feels skillful and resonant. It's a good-looking production, as opposed to the jerky, ugly feel of the previous films.

The Peterson mourns the death of their eldest son Caleb, a soldier who died overseas. A stranger arrives at the door calling himself David (Dan Stevens) and claiming to have known Caleb and wishing to deliver a final message of love. Mom (Sheila Kelley) invites him to stay, and he subtly begins to affect their lives. David helps youngest son, young teen Luke (Brendan Meyer), deal with school bullies in a most alarming way, and dad (Leland Orser) suddenly gets a promotion at work. Luke's older sister Anna (Maika Monroe) takes David to a party and subsequently one of her friends is dead. She begins to make a few calls to find out who David really is, which sets off a chain reaction of increasingly deadly events.

For the first time in Wingard's work, death means something. The departed soldier Caleb affects everyone here. The characters are all wounded, and Wingard seems to sympathize with them. It makes sense that they would turn to David for relief. In the part, Dan Stevens (from Downton Abbey) is clearly not sane, but also mesmerizing. Building on this, Wingard creates a story out of fascinating, prickly human interactions. The movie has its share of crazy thrills, but it's the characters that really make it work.

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