Never before The Guest has a film so accurately reproduced that feeling you got upon entering a popular upperclassman's Halloween-themed red cup party. That combination of bated excitement, casual danger, and vaguely sexual panache is eminent from minute one in the fun, "retro" thriller, once Dan Stevens (himself a package of excitement, danger, and sexual panache altogether) pays a visit to the average suburban Petersons, revealing himself to be an army buddy of their deceased eldest son.
The fact that there's more to Stevens' David than meets the eye should be evident from the second the film opens. Making no bones about keeping its secrets close to the chest, The Guest allows itself to have as much fun with the "mysterious stranger" gambit as possible. That we are brought to realize over and over how little we know about David, and how far we may be from figuring out The Guest's puzzle, is what makes it such a delight to watch. In short, we never quite know what David is going to do next, and it's always fun to watch him do it.
Of course, the fun is ours alone, as the Peterson's 20-or-so-year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) is charged to unearth the true intentions of her family's houseguest. Steady tension (the affable kind) builds to ribald chaos (still relatively affable) and ultimately unbridled dementia (despite its subject matter, this movie never wants to assault or alienate, and really never does) as Anna, David, the Petersons, the neighborhood do-nothings, and a few other unexpected parties find themselves ensnared in a maniacal and yet somewhat whimsical game of "What the hell is going on and how do we stop it?"
If The Guest really suffers from anything it is from its simplicity. The movie is fun, articulate, and charismatic, but ultimately gets done everything it has to between titles and credits. Like David, The Guest is a supreme soldier: concerned with doing its job as meticulously as possible and deigning not to cross the appropriate margins thereof. As such, the flick might not stay too long with any of us after it's over and done with, but it proves all the while to be a fun, evocative good time. So, pretty much exactly like all those high school Halloween parties... or high school in general.