The Underrated Psychological Thriller Taking Over Netflix
The Guest, a 2014 indie picture that came and went relatively unnoticed upon its initial release, has become a cult classic among a certain subset of film fans. If an atmospheric slow burn built around a creepy mystery featuring a stunning lead performance sounds like a good time, then you're going to want to check it out pronto.
The fact that The Guest is so little-seen is nothing short of a crime. The flick stars Dan Stevens, an intensely charismatic actor who got his start on the British TV series Downton Abbey before moving on to feature films and American television. If his face looks familiar, you may also recognize him from his lead role on the Fox superhero series Legion.
Among the supporting cast are Maika Monroe, who starred in the movie It Follows the same year, and Brendan Meyer, who has recently made a big impression as Jesse on the Netflix series The OA. The Guest was written by Simon Barrett, and directed by Adam Wingard - the pair who had previously fielded the horror movie You're Next.
The film centers on the Petersons, a family in mourning. Spencer and Laura have lost their eldest son, Caleb, who was killed in action fighting in Afghanistan. Their surviving children, Anna and Luke are having trouble coping. Luke is having a particularly difficult time dealing with bullies at school.
Into their life comes David, a polite and respectful young man who says that he served with Caleb, and that they had become best friends. Laura invites him to stay at their house while he's in town, and David reluctantly accepts the offer.
The kids take to David as well, and he seems keen to help them out with their issues. But the way in which he goes about being a mentor turns out to be less than appropriate. Eventually, Anna calls the nearby military base to inquire about David, and she receives some disturbing news, leading her to suspect that their charming guest is not who he says he is.
The film is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, boasting a 91 percent rating. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Robert Abele praised what he called Stevens', "psycho charm" performance, saying:
"It's Stevens, as the all-American cover-model mercenary both friendly and fatal, who gives The Guest its literally killer personality."
Dazzling reviews for the film are all over the internet, with Rolling Stone's Peter Travers offering a particularly bright, bite-sized take:
"It's hellish good fun. Stevens is mesmerizing as the avenger, helping director Adam Wingard turn The Guest into a blast of wicked mirth and malice."
By now, you may be thinking, "If people who review films for a living have raved about The Guest, and if a ton of people are streaming it on Netflix, why haven't I heard of it until just now?" One big reason: The film didn't receive a wide release, meaning fewer people saw it when it debuted in 2014.
The movie made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, where it blew critics away but failed to score a major distributor. Picturehouse, a minor distributor specializing in niche films like A Prairie Home Companion and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, eventually picked up the rights to the movie in the U.S.
In September 2014, The Guest was given an extremely limited U.S. release. It opened in all of 19 theaters, and never played on more than 53 screens during its entire theatrical run. Globally, the film just barely managed to make back half of its meager $5 million production budget.
With that kind of weak distribution, moviegoers outside of a few markets never even got the opportunity to catch the film while it was in theaters. And while it has surfaced on various Video On Demand and streaming platforms from time to time, general audiences could be forgiven for overlooking the flick due to its nondescript title.
Take it from us, though: The Guest deserves to take up permanent residence on your list of favorite thrillers. Funny, thrilling, twisty, and expertly crafted, it'll leave you applauding Barrett and Wingard's handiwork, and wondering why Dan Stevens isn't a much bigger star. Watch the video to learn about The Underrated Psychological Thriller Taking Over Netflix!
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