Tuesday 22 December 2015

The Guest (2015) - Movie Review


Dan Stevens has never really struck me as that captivating an actor. I barely even remember him in A Walk Among The Tombstones and he didn’t really rise above the one-joke role he was given for The Cobbler. The only time I can vividly remember a performance of his would be from Night At The Museum 3 as Sir Lancelot, but I’d probably that chalk up to him being pretty much the only interesting character in that entire film. Well, I think I need to pay a bit closer attention to him in future because he is stone-cold fantastic in this film.

He goes through every scene he has in the first two acts like he’s too cool for the room and knows it: His poise, his calm demeanour, his ability to handle himself in a fight; he just oozes badass from every pore. Yet, at the same time, it’s very clear that there is something very off about him; the way he acts when he’s on his own in the frame, coupled with the awesome 80’s throwback soundtrack, makes him look like he’s coming up with a dozen ways to kill everyone within a five-mile radius just in case he needs it. Then the third act kicks in and, while maintaining his stoic presence, he delves into the more action film villain side of his character and adds some pants-wetting to the cooing over just how awesome he is.

After seeing two other so-called ‘thrillers’ with similar plots about dangerous house guests this year, it’s genuinely nice to know that there’s a film that actually does it right. For a start, the acting is strong enough to carry out the idea: Outside of Stevens embodying charm for 100 minutes, Maika Munroe from It Follows delivers yet another great performance as the intrigued but cautious Anna and Brendan Meyer works really damn well as the rather nuanced Luke. Luke’s character and his reaction to the truth about David, in a weird way, echoes how the audience is experiencing the events of the film: He doesn’t try and deny that David is a bad guy, but he’s just that cool that he’s willing to overlook it to remain his friend.

For another, the plot follows a reasonable progression and, while getting a bit cluttered in the third act, works nicely as one of the few action-thrillers that’s come out recently that actually pays off on both ends. It doesn’t have any of the hokey or just plain hateful characterisation that plagued those other films. The thrills are stable and quite gripping, even during the bizarre haunted house sequence at the end, and the action scenes are hard-hitting and rather brutal, yet never get too gratuitous and exploitative; it hits that sweet spot. It also benefits from not trying to completely detail David’s backstory, going into just enough detail to have it make sense but not to the point of bogging the film down. Given how a previous cut of the film did detail it further, while I do admit being a bit curious, that lack of mystique might have made me appreciate David Collins slightly less.

Probably this film’s greatest strength, aside from Stevens, is its dark sense of humour. Part of why David’s character works as well as it does is that the script has enough awareness to not take itself too seriously. Probably the biggest example of this, and also the funniest moment in the film, is when Laura and David meet with Luke’s school principal. Without spoiling it, it kind of plays like more anti-PC gold that is delivered and written brilliantly. Between that, the aforementioned haunted house and the in-universe character who follows real-world logic of rooting for the villain despite how scummy he is (until he just goes too damn far), it’s tongue-in-cheek enough to allow for actual fun without pretending to be smarter than it is, yet mature enough to make the scarier moments work.

All in all, this is a very fun action thriller, with a solid cast and expert balancing of both the flashier fight scenes and the tenser suspenseful moments. All the points go to Dan Stevens, whose portrayal of David feels like the Jason Statham role that we should have gotten in The Transporter Refueled but never did.

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