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'The Guest' Is A Deliciously Silly Thriller With Genius Casting

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In the wake of Nicolas Winding Refn's cult-hit Drive, a transcendent genre exercise that wore its 80s b-movie influences on its sleeves, the contemporary low-budget thriller can sometimes feel like a cheap imitation of Refn's own imitation. The Guest, the latest from horror director Adam Wingard (You're Next), sometimes wears its influences like a bad costume. Production values make The Guest sometimes feel like The Room shot with a better camera, and its use of a synth-heavy 80s darkwave soundtrack feels comically out of place. However, it is the genius casting and committed performance of Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens that makes The Guest a deliciously silly potboiler.

Stevens is David Collins, a veteran of one of our contemporary wars, who is welcomed into the rural, heartland home of the family of a fallen comrade. The family is made of perfectly boring, middle-Americans whose members play their parts to a T: the careerist middle-management patriarch, the homemaker mother, the nerdy and quiet teenaged son, and the rebellious yet sexy twenty-something daughter. Collins, looking like a cross between Ryan Gosling and Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, is just as whitebread in appearance as his hosts, but with a sly sexiness and secretly-sinister comportment hint at his intentions.

The Guest marks off every entry on the checklist of contemporary thrillers so routinely that it almost feels as if it's just going through the motions, but the blandness of the film's milieu serves as the backdrop for Stevens' handsome G.I. Joe to take over. You figured at some point David Collins would have to put his basic training to use, and the action is foley-ed so comically high that each kick and punch lands with an unexpected force. When The Guest finally lets its freak flag fly with an unexpected bloodbath that concludes in an empty high school auditorium that just-so conveniently is about to host a Halloween dance, the film doesn't quite come together but at least its a fun ride.

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The Guest is now playing at the AMC Century City 15 and Arclight Hollywood.