by Hiko Mitsuzuka
Dan Stevens, the once round-faced British object of affection for many Downton Abbey viewers, wants to let us Americans know that he has hammered the final nail in the coffin of Matthew Crawley, his sensitive, soft-spoken alter ego from the PBS period drama.
In The Guest (opening September 17), Stevens is a chiseled badass with several secrets up his sleeve. His baby blues have now taken on an icy quality that'll have you questioning his motives once he locks his gaze on you (and he does plenty of it).
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, who gave us the slasher sleeper You're Next three summers ago, have turned the British thesp into a seemingly down-home American man of mystery named David, a war vet who shows up on the doorstep of a family that has lost their own son in battle.
When David's unorthodox problem-solving methods set off a chain of violent events in their small town, it's up to oldest daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, cut from the same cloth as Kat Dennings) to figure out what's up. Is David really who he says he is?
Wingard and Barrett impressively set the film's dread-filled tone right away (Stephen Moore's ominous and synthy score also helps), and it becomes apparent that the director and writer are nostalgic for old-school thrillers like The Terminator and Halloween (lo and behold, the film is set in late October).
There's something off about David, and the story keeps us guessing until the gruesome and nightmarish third act during which we're treated to a cat-and-mouse game literally set in a hall of smoke and mirrors.
The Guest ultimately comes off as a sick and twisted mashup of two genres that slightly resembles the gloriously lunk-headed action thrillers one would expect to come across on late-night cable. And it knows that. That's what makes it so watchable; in other words, it's a cult classic in the making.