You’ll be pardoned if Downton Abbey is all you know Dan Stevens from, because even when you see him in other projects, it’s not always immediately apparent if your biggest association with him is as the handsome, cherubic Matthew Crawley, who looks vaguely familiar in a way that is sometimes hard to identify: Blue eyes, blond hair, good-looking and immediately forgettable. He can play rando douchebag, as he does in Adam Sandler’s The Cobbler, or he can pull off the role of a Messina — a nice guy placeholder who often plays romantic lead opposite more famous A-list actresses, so named after Chris Messina (see also Kinnear, Greg) — as he does as the Beast opposite Emma Watson in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (see also Colossal opposite Anne Hathaway). But then, Dan Stevens can also do what he did in FX’s Legion, a show I found tediously obtuse in spite of Stevens’ remarkable performance. In Legion, he manages to be both distinctive and chameleon-like, which is a particular skill Stevens has.
I bring up Stevens now because his 2014 horror-thrilled The Guest resurfaced on Netflix as its second most popular film of the weekend, after only Da 5 Bloods. When I saw that, I couldn’t actually remember if I’d seen The Guest or not, so I found myself watching it and quickly realizing that, if I had seen it, I’d have not so soon forgotten it.
The film from Adam Wingard (You’re Next) is the kind of film we like to describe as nasty, brutish, and short: A quick, efficient one-hour and 40 minute horror-thriller that is good but that is also so much better because of Dan Stevens. Stevens plays the Guest, a guy who goes by the name “David,” a mostly unassuming soldier who returns from battle and immediately hops on a bus to inform the family of a fellow soldier that his dying words were about them.
The Peterson family, believing David to be a close friend of their dead son, immediately invite him in, and the story unspools from there. David, obviously, is not who he says he is, and though who he actually is doesn’t make a lot of logical sense and his motivations are never really clear, it turns out that watching Dan Stevens play an ass-kicking Jason Bourne — but as a villain — is super fun. Stevens is menacing, wry, and mischievous, the kind of bad guy you root for, if only because his death will mean the end of his performance. He kills a lot of people in The Guest, but he never loses the swagger or wry grin.
The Guest and You’re Next are also the excellent horror flicks that launched director Adam Wingard to the next level, where he now squanders his talent remaking Blair Witch, badly adapting Death Note and directing Godzilla vs. Kong. He also now gets to botch an American adaptation of Jee-woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil, which is really too bad, because Wingard should stick to what he does best: Indie horror flicks starring the versatile Dan Stevens, who can next be seen in another horror film, The Rental, directed by Dave Franco and also starring Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Toby Huss, and Jeremy Allen White.
Header Image Source: Picturehouse