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Movie review: The one guest you shouldn’t let in

Until it becomes completely demented, “The Guest” is a perfectly respectable thriller, and even when it goes off the rails and becomes ridiculous, it’s still entertaining. It stars Dan Stevens, late of “Downton Abbey,” but if you didn’t know it, you’d never guess he was English. You would just think he’s American, and out of his mind.

He shows up one day at the door of a family grieving the loss of their son in Iraq. He has a military bearing and a smile that’s both charming and alarming. He “sirs” and ma’ams” everybody. He claims to have been a close friend of the deceased. The skeptical kid sister (Maika Monroe) is unimpressed, but the gentle, gullible Mom (Sheila Kelley) and the hard-drinking imbecile father (Leland Orser) think he’s great. He’s invited to stay for a few days.

And that’s when the fun starts. The kick of “The Guest” is in knowing more than the characters. We can recognize the guest for what he is, even as he is coming through the door. The specifics are vague, but the range of possibilities – somewhere between maniac and ax murderer – is apparent to anyone who’s not stupid enough to be in this movie. Watching the characters look befuddled as people in their circle start turning up dead is good for a few laughs.

Adding to the pleasure is the fact that Stevens is a winning presence. He’s so appealing that even as the characters start figuring out that he’s not quite a nice guy, they still seem to like him – and we can understand that.

Yet as the crimes escalate, “The Guest” becomes less effective. It loses its tentative toehold in reality and becomes the equivalent of a monster movie. The movie becomes all about spectacle and shock – and there really isn’t much it can do to shock an audience.

The Guest

* * 

Cast: Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelley and Maika Monroe

Director: Adam Wingard

99 minutes

Rated R

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