(WARNING: This article contains spoilers for “THE GUEST”)
A super soldier makes it his mission to help a fallen comrade’s family, but ends up becoming the Michael Myers of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard’s genre mash up, “The Guest.” A void is left in the home and hearts of the Peterson family after the death of their son, Caleb, during his time serving overseas. The film jumps right into it with the arrival of David (Dan Stevens) at the Peterson’s doorstep. He claims to have served with Caleb and was present to hear his dying wish:
“…To check on ya’ll, you and your whole family here. He wanted me to tell you that he loved you. Specifically wanted me to tell each one of you…that he loved you and was thinking about you till the very end”.
By the end of the film, David succeeds in communicating Caleb’s dying wish, while also leaving a trail of bodies, some of them being the Peterson's.
David quickly (almost comically) fills the void left behind by Caleb. Throughout the film's first act, he begins to infiltrate the multiple tiers that make up the Peterson family by appealing to each character individually. First it’s Laura Peterson, (Sheila Kelley), the matriarch of the household. At the beginning of the film she is staring teary-eyed at a photo of the late Caleb, communicating to the audience that perhaps she is taking his death the hardest. When David arrives to tell her Caleb’s wish, she is overcome with emotion, refusing to let David stay at a motel, instead offering up Caleb’s old room as a place for him to stay the night. Next it’s Spencer Peterson, (Leland Orser), the father of the family. Spencer is originally the most resistant to David spending the night, afraid David might have “the PTSD.” But after a few late night brews with David, Spencer warms up to the idea of him staying not just the night, but a few nights. Luke Peterson, (Brendan Meyer), the youngest son of the family, is your typical anti-social, bullied high school student. David picks Luke up from school one day and follows the group of hooligans who have harass Luke to a local bar. Once there David entices the crew into a brawl, in which he beats the ever-loving shit out of them, in very over-the-top, action-hero-esque fashion. Finally, there’s Anna Peterson (Maika Monroe), the twenty year-old daughter of the family who eventually becomes the hero of the film. Anna’s parents coax her into inviting David to a party she’s going to and while there, David's basically the coolest dude at the party: bringing in two full kegs with his inhuman strength, smoking the Devil’s Lettuce (marijuana), hooking up with the host and winning another fight. On the ride home from the party, David is also a shoulder for Anna to lean on, post fighting with her boyfriend earlier in the scene. And by the end of the first act, there is seeded sexual tension between the two of them. At this point in the film David has filled the void left behind by the death of the Peterson’s eldest son.
The second and third acts of the film are far more different: David becomes the antagonist, while Anna takes the position of the protagonist. It’s during the second act that we see David murder in cold blood, becoming a somewhat typical horror villain. It’s in the third act that we see David commit monstrous atrocities: stabbing Laura Peterson in the chest, shooting Spencer after hitting him with a car, murdering Anna’s best friend, then blowing up the diner they work at with frag grenades. David becomes the Anti-Action Hero, the evil Tom Cruise. This however is not fully David’s fault because of one key plot point: his neurological condition.
Anna’s first red flag that David may not be who he claims to be is when overhearing a phone call he’s having one early morning. David’s talking to a plastic surgeon, asking for a new face and the erasing of his finger prints. Anna looks into his past, learning that David Anderson Collins died months prior in a military hospital by way of an oxygen tank accident. We eventually learn that David is one of the failed test subjects of ‘Project Aegolius," a secret military experiment designed to create super soldiers. Major Carver, (Lance Reddick), the man who was in charge of Project Aegolius, tells Anna of David’s condition:
“David has a neurological condition, Miss Peterson. Designed to protect him and the experiment. If he feels like his identity may be compromised he… he’s programmed to clean up all loose ends. I doubt he could stop himself now even if he wanted to.”
This brief paragraph of heavy exposition reveals that this horror film's monster is indeed self-aware. David can essentially be broken down into two distinct characters in the film: the version of David in an environment where he feels safe, and the version of David where his programming is triggered. But both types are hidden under his beautiful, monotone face.
In the very beginning of the film when Laura tells David he should spend the night at the house, David tries to say no, claiming he wanted to stay a night at the motel up the road then catch a bus to Florida in the morning. It is revealed that the surgeon that would do David’s identity-altering procedure works out of Florida, implying that staying with the Peterson family for any amount of time more than keeping his promise to Caleb is time he wasn’t planning on, essentially making all the time he spends with Peterson’s, and all the acts of kindness he does for them, genuine. David is a man who was broken and put back together, which explains his unusual, monotone demeanor. Is beating up high school freshmen at a bar a true act of kindness? Not really, but in his eyes it might be the only solution he understands. This mindset is further explored with Spencer. In the scene where Spencer first begins warming up to David, he explains that he’ll never get a promotion at his current job because he doesn’t have a college degree. Fast forward a half hour in movie-time and Spencer nervously explains to his family the mysterious suicide his boss committed, making Spencer the new regional manager. In a scene where Anna tells the family that she’s been looking into David’s past, he corners her afterwards and makes a plea of sorts:
“I promised Caleb I would do anything I could to help your family. I’ll be moving on in a couple of days, so you don’t need to put up with me much longer.”
David’s basically saying, “if you continue to look into this, I’m going to have to kill you.” David knows full well what his programming can make him do. He doesn’t want an identity change to go a vengeful murder spree; he wants it because he will be liberated. Without his old face he will no longer be recognizable, and if he’s unrecognizable his programming cannot be triggered.
It is once the military tries to take out David at the Peterson household that he becomes fully triggered and the events that turn David into a villain begin. Once David’s identity is compromised he has to erase the evidence, that being in this case, the Peterson family. In a similar fashion to how he infiltrates the family, he begins to take them out. During the seize of the house, Laura is hiding in the kitchen and yells at David, “Did you even know my son?”
“I did…yes, we were in the same program, and he would understand what I have to do here.”
This implies that Caleb was also a brainwashed super solider, and after this quote he murders Laura. He then takes out the entire military squad chasing him (sans Major Carver, naturally) and goes on to kill Spencer, then Anna’s best friend, all the witnesses, and eventually Major Carver himself (naturally). The only reason Luke and Anna survive is because David fakes his own death.
The film ends with Luke and Anna, sitting in the back of an ambulance outside the wreckage of the high school gym, where their final stand-off with David took place. The last scene of the film contains a limping fireman exiting, who is revealed to be David. Anna notices but it doesn’t matter. With all of the military personnel who knew David’s secret now deceased, along with the Peterson elders murdered, David is free, and the children survived, but at a very, very high cost.
Robert has a degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting and works in multiple genres. He's just your typical man-child who enjoys most things nerd culture. You can follow him on Twitter @RoBaeBae