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Film / The Guest

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He's here to help...

David: I do not wanna hear anything further about this young man being harassed, do we understand each other?
Principal Alston: I believe we do, Mister... who are you?!
David: I'm a friend of the family.

The Guest is a 2014 Thriller film directed by Adam Wingard (You're Next, VHS). The story consists of the Peterson family who are visited by a mysterious stranger, David (Dan Stevens), who claims to be a comrade of their deceased son, Caleb. Polite and charming, he makes himself comfortable in the family.

But is he who he claims to be?

On April 1st, 2022, a compilation / concept album entitled "The Guest 2 (Original Soundtrack)" was released, serving as a kind of pseudo-sequel to the original film.

The film has the following tropes:

  • Accent Slip-Up: David's Southern accent sometimes wavers in and out with the changes in his affect, most notably when Anna overhears him talking on the phone to the plastic surgeon and he's speaking at length in what would be considered a more normative "regionless" American accent, which is part of what clues her in that he's not all that he appears.
  • Affably Evil: A fascinating example. David initially comes off as a polite, charming, somewhat straitlaced and generally wholesome guy who is genuinely interested in the well-being of the Peterson family. That all turns out to be completely true... except he's also a compulsively violent psychopath who literally cannot stop himself from murdering everyone in his path if his identity becomes compromised. These two sides of his personality can (and often do, particularly later in the film) flip back and forth on a dime with zero warning.
  • The Alcoholic: Downplayed with Mr. Peterson. It's never commented on, but he just happens to be drinking in almost every scene he's in.
  • Always Chaotic Evil/Too Dumb to Live: The jocks. A random stranger offered them a "lady" drink. They decide to blow it out of proportion and throw the drink in his face. Even removing David from the equation, they are still antagonizing a random adult man they know nothing about, in a room full of other adults.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Invoked by David during his conversation with Anna in her room, as he knows that she suspects him of murdering Craig and framing Zeke and even indirectly admits that he did so, but won't go so far as to step outside of his nice-guy persona to explicitly confirm it. All of his dialogue is phrased so that without context it's not really clear whether he's expressing sympathy or remorse, and he can plausibly claim the former if she tries to accuse him again to her family. Anna visibly picks up on this, and the situation gets less ambiguous when she doesn't respond to his apology.
    David: I just wanted to say how sorry I am about Craig. He seemed like a really cool guy. And Zeke getting arrested, again, I'm very sorry. I know you don't need me here at this stressful time... You know, I'm not helping, which is a shame, because I promised Caleb I would do anything I could to help your family.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Luke's intense admiration and hero worship of David, even at one point showing more loyalty to David than his own sister, can be read as romantic. The trope is also implied in a deleted scene where his father asks him if he has a date for the Halloween dance, and he responds that he's not going because he doesn't like any of the girls in his school.
  • And I Must Scream: Implied in Major Carver saying that David has been "programmed" to kill anyone he suspects knows his true identity, and couldn't stop even if he wanted to.
  • Anyone Can Die: Mr. and Mrs. Peterson, Craig, Kristen and Major Carver all bite it before the movie is over.
  • Allegory: David can be seen as an examination of the dehumanizing effect war has on young men, some of whom come back physically whole but seriously damaged on the inside.
    Spencer: What if he has the PTSD or whatever it's called? Some of these guys come back with mental health problems, Laura.
  • Apologetic Attacker: David regrets killing Mr. and Mrs. Peterson, apologizing before murdering them both, since he was supposed to protect them. He also apologizes later when hunting Luke and Anna at the school, though it sounds a bit less genuine and more annoyed.
  • Asshole Victim: The bullies David beats down have earned their ass-kicking by the time it arrives. Later, when one of them goes after Luke again, he gets a punch to the face and then a yardstick broken across it from Luke. Both instances are immensely satisfying to watch.
  • Ax-Crazy: "David" turns out to be this due to a laboratory experiment on him by the US Army turning him and some others including Caleb into super soldiers.
  • Badass Abnormal: There are hints David has been physiologically altered or augmented in some fashion due to the program he was placed into. He's much stronger than he looks, despite being in good shape, and very difficult to kill.
  • Ballistic Discount: David arranges to buy some pistols from two illicit arms dealers, then calmly announces that he's going to kill them and take their entire stock. One draws a revolver only to be instantly disarmed and shot with his own weapon. Turns out there's only one bullet in the chamber, perhaps as insurance against this trope. The other criminal however decides to run rather than fight. David calmly gets another round from the arms stash and kills him with a single bullet at long range.
  • Bar Brawl: Not exactly a fair one, with an ex-military Super-Soldier facing four drunk teenagers.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Discussed. When Spencer arrives home visibly shaken and pours himself a sizable drink, he informs his wife that he's gotten that promotion, because his new boss died in an apparent suicide pact with his girlfriend, and comments on the trope as he drinks.
  • Big Brother Instinct/Big Brother Substitute: Played with. David attempts to temporarily fill Caleb's role as a caretaker for the family and older brother figure for Luke and Anna, although this is complicated by his implied mutual attraction with Anna and his obvious bad influence on Luke, as well as the calculated and perfunctory manner in which he goes about trying to help them.
  • Black Comedy:
    • This plays as the background music when David guns down Kristen and blows up the diner.
    • David's "grave" in the end, when he's surrounded with crappy Halloween decorations of a graveyard.
  • Book Dumb: Implied with David. He's a very highly skilled and effective soldier, an excellent manipulator, and was smart enough to escape from KPG and avoid being found until Anna inadvertently gives them his location, but he quickly admits defeat when faced with Luke's high school-level math homework.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The film ends with Anna and Luke looking at a masked man who's heavily implied to be the Not Quite Dead David, but the credits roll before anything else can happen.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy / Broken Ace: David's mental condition has been "programmed" to, if he believes his identity compromised, kill everyone who could possibly know about it. Major Carver states that he couldn't stop himself even if he wanted to (which he clearly doesn't).
  • Bullying a Dragon: One of Luke's bullies pours a drink on David. He ends up kicking the kid's ass without so much as breaking a sweat.
  • Burger Fool: Subverted. Anna works in a diner, but only because she's saving up money for college.
  • The Charmer: David is a charismatic and charming individual, always polite and soft-spoken. He's also a sociopath capable of turning Anna's reveal about his records being clean and the real David being dead into a non-issue and making her own parents trust a complete stranger over their own daughter with just few smiles and half-truths.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The knife David gave to Luke.
    • The handgun David left next to Major Carver's body.
  • The Coats Are Off: The last standing jock does this during Bar Brawl. It doesn't help him in the slightest.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Almost every fight scene with David has him wiping the floor with his opponents without breaking a sweat.
  • Death by Genre Savviness: The arms dealer. He was apparently aware of the Ballistic Discount and even his own gun carries only a single bullet to prevent further danger. David still shoots him, with his gun, using the only bullet in it.
  • Deconstructed Trope: Of the Super-Soldier, and more specifically Captain America. While David is initially introduced as an all-American soldier and appears charming and good-natured, the film gradually shows his true nature as a ruthless and sociopathic killer programmed to eliminate anyone who suspects his real identity, making him more like something out of Weapon X.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Major Carver and his crew couldn't have devised a worse tactic to take down a dangerous super-soldier/cyborg/whatever. They just take position before the house and fire blindly with light weapons through the wall and windows, apparently hoping that at least some bullets hit him to somehow do the kill, despite presumably knowing David will not easily go down (if he can go down at all) because he is not a normal human. And that's not all: they spent their magazines all at once and start reloading right there without the littlest care, becoming human targets and getting gunned down with ease.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Basically David's entire M.O., as almost every direct action he takes in service of making the Petersons' lives better ends with (mostly) innocent people getting seriously injured, incarcerated, or killed.
    David: Those kids at school, they're bigger than you? Then bring a knife to school. They take it off you and beat you up, you go around their houses at night and burn them down with their families inside. What's the worst they can do?
  • The Dog Bites Back: Before the start of class Luke eventually has had enough from one bully and just straight up punches him in the face. When the bully throws him to the ground and unwisely turns his back on him, declaring "That's right, bitches!" to the class, Luke grabs a yard stick and breaks it across his face.
  • Drink-Based Characterization: Invoked by David insulting Luke's bullies by ordering "girly" drinks for them. Also played straight by David ordering a Gargle Blaster (cinnamon schnapps and tabasco sauce) for himself, which he calmly sips and seems to enjoy, but also subsequently uses as a weapon in the ensuing Bar Brawl (that he clearly anticipated) by tossing it into a bully's face.
  • Dying Smirk: After Luke stabs David, David gives him a thumbs up and praises him for doing the right thing before dying. Ultimately subverted, though, as he didn't actually die.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Anna falls prey to this when David leaves the bathroom in just a towel, catching her off guard. Later, when he shows up at the party, carrying without much effort two kegs and beer and flexing half of his body in the process, all the ladies are looking.
  • Empathic Environment: Parodied, if not mocked. Luke learns about his parents' death while inside a Halloween maze, with recorded sound of storm and thunders in the background playing.
  • The End... Or Is It?: A man in a firefighter suit emerges from the burning Rec center with a limp and begins staring at Anna and Luke, clearly implying that David survived somehow. However, the film ends before this can be confirmed or explained.
  • Exposition: Subverted. Just as Major Carver is about to give one about "Project Aegolius" for the board he's meeting, he's interrupted by his aide with emergency call.
  • Extremely Protective Child: Luke is extremely indifferent to David's violence even after he's killed multiple people and framed Zeke for it. Until he finds out from Anna that David killed their parents and turns on him.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: The Petersons pay a hefty price for taking in David for a few days. David kills two of Anna's closest friends, frames her boyfriend for the murder, offs Spencer's boss in order to get him a promotion, and eventually even kills Laura and Spencer, leaving Anna and Luke orphans. The finale also has aspects of The Scorpion And The Frog, as Carver explains that David is programmed to "clean up loose ends" despite this conflicting with his personal desire to protect the Petersons on Caleb's behalf.
  • Final Girl: Anna and Luke both make it out alive.
  • Flashed-Badge Hijack:
    Major Carver: Military police, I'm gonna need your vehicle.
  • Flat Character: The jock bullies have no characterization apart from being obnoxious assholes who like to pick on Luke.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: David clearly has some not entirely platonic feelings toward Anna. This remains even after he murders her parents and they're clearly made to be on opposite sides.
  • Genre Shift: Goes from a mystery-thriller, with a touch of horror, to an action-horror for the last twenty minutes.
  • Genre Throwback: To John Carpenter films of the 1970's and 1980's.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Major Carver mentions that David fit all of the requirements of the "perfect candidate" of the Super-Soldier project. Turns out he's a little too efficient at that job, and is practically impossible to take down even for a team of trained shooters.
  • Good Pays Better: Zig-zagged. David seems to prefer simply being nice to people as a means of achieving his ends and gets a lot of mileage out of his charm and genuine friendliness, but won't hesitate to switch gears if that stops working.
  • Graceful Loser: David is not angry at Anna and Luke defeating him, going as far to tell Luke he "did the right thing" and shouldn't feel bad about killing him. Sure, he apparently survives, but it's still a rather gracious way to react to being stabbed in the chest.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Attempted by one of the bullies on David. David then shows him how it's properly done.
  • Hand Wave: The specifics of the program David and Caleb went through are never really explained. And there's one moment where Laura asks David what's going on, and David looks like he's going to explain, only to state that there just isn't enough time (which is fair given the hail of gunfire they are currently under).
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: David asks Luke did his sister inform anyone else of her suspicions, Luke rather foolishly informs him his sister would have told Kristen. This means she's as good as dead come the finale.
  • Hero Antagonist: Major Carver tries to save Anna and Luke from "David".
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: David eventually gets stabbed by Luke, using the very knife he gave him as a gift.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Anna turns out surprisingly effective at luring David away from her brother, getting him into open and shooting him. If she just knew about Rule #2...
  • Idiot Ball: Luke, without provocation, spills his guts about Anna's suspicions because a) David gets him out of expulsion and b) is his "friend." There was also little need to inform him that not only did he know he was not who he claimed, but that Luke had guessed he'd bumped off several people.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Although they aren't children, the teenagers Luke and Anna, and Luke's teenage bullies survive while their parents, adult protector Major Carver, and their older brother Caleb dies.
  • Improbable Weapon User: David successfully weaponises his drink (albeit arguably chosen for its potential as a weapon).
  • Jerk Jock: The resident school bullies who torment Luke are all jocks. Which means they are allowed to get drunk in the local bar and generally act like assholes with impunity. Until David shows up, that is.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • The bullies at school torment Luke for no reason beyond that they can and that he's Ambiguously Gay.
    • David murders two people, he frames Anna's boyfriend for it. While he was a pot-dealing, insensitive asshole, he was clearly innocent of that crime and it's implied that David's real goal was to get rid of competition for Anna.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Luke endures a lot of messed-up abuse from the school bullies. David humiliates them later with extreme violence.
  • Kubrick Stare: David on several occasions.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Major Carver instantly points out how absurd the entire situation with the Halloween maze is, taking some weight off of the audience's Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
  • Last-Name Basis: As part of the military theme, both David and Major Carver address everyone very formally, unless the person in question asks them to stop.
  • Laughably Evil: As a general rule, the more villainous David is, the more comical their actions are. Murder with style and a smile, not to mention a vicious demeanor offset almost entirely by the sheer humor and audacity of their actions. This is best exemplified when David murders an entire room of diner patrons by laboriously pulling the pins off two grenades, spinning around and presenting them with an almost annoyed look on his face before rolling them into the room like bowling balls.
  • Left the Background Music On: Used continuously throughout the film. The most notable example happens when David and Anna return from the party and suddenly start discussing the song which up to this point appeared to be just the soundtrack for the scene.
  • Made of Iron: David doesn't react to pain very much, and when he's shoved at one point in the film, there's a very faint clanking sound. The ending implies that even after getting shot and stabbed multiple times, he still has the strength to overpower a firefighter, steal his suit and limp out of the building.
  • Male Gaze: One of Anna's introductory scenes has her sleeping in a t-shirt and her underwear, with the camera panning up from her legs to the rest of her body.
  • Majorly Awesome: Major Carver. Being played by Lance Reddick helps.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Aegolius is a name for a specific ill omen, related with owl screech. A rather ironic name for the project, all things considered. Also, David apparently remains active through night, never sleeping, further making it related.
    • Major Carver. Three guesses how he dies.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Major Carver and Anna pull away from the Breezy Room Café mere seconds before David pulls into the parking lot and heads inside.
  • Mood Whiplash: After all the awful things happening till this point, the scene in front of the school principal is pure comedy gold.
  • More Dakka: Carver's men believe in there being no kill like overkill. After assault rifles fail, one pulls out a full machine gun. David also follows this, using an M4 to counterattack after starting with a pistol.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: Played with. David has a lean and athletic build, but he's implied to be much stronger than he appears (he is able to easily carry two full kegs, for instance).
  • Never Gets Drunk: David. He outdrinks the alcoholic Spencer to no ill effect, and can handle a drink that Luke chokes on and David later uses as pepper spray on a bully.
  • Nice to the Waiter: In almost literal sense. Rather than causing him any real troubles, David works around the bar owner and then pays for all damage caused, while providing a fool-proof cover story to keep the bar owner out of trouble.
  • No Name Given: "David Collins" isn't his real name. Foreshadowed when "David" pulls out David Collins' dog tags for the family to see, but says he doesn't like to wear them without really giving a reason why (many soldiers continue wearing their tags after leaving service out of habit, but wearing someone else's would go against that instinct).
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Craig and his friend selling David guns both get one when David responds to the gun seller saying that he can cut him a deal for all the guns with "No, I'm going to kill you."
    • A subdued and drawn-out one from David when Luke inadvertently reveals David's whole plan, with some added suspense, because David feeling genuinely threatened would probably mean someone is about to get murdered.
  • Papa Wolf: Carver becomes quite protective of Anna and Luke in the climax of the film. He ends up sacrificing himself to get them away from a rampaging David.
  • Paying for the Action Scene: David takes out some bullies in a bar who had been picking on Luke. He pays the bartender for the mess and even gives him a story to tell the police since minors were in his establishment.
  • Precision F-Strike: The final line of the film.
    Anna: What the fuck?!
  • Private Military Contractors: What KPG appears to be. It's unclear if Major Carver is a military liaison or not, but KPG is definitely not official army.
  • Punch Catch: David stops this way a Jerk Jock trying to pull Grievous Bottley Harm. He then takes the bottle and smashes it over the face of his confused opponent.
  • Rasputinian Death: David. He's shot three times, stabbed twice, gets into a car crash, and doesn't die.
  • Reckless Sidekick: Justified. Luke is one to Anna's more reasonable behavior, but that's because he considers David to be his friend and looks up to him. He's also 15 and has No Social Skills, while Anna is 20 and her life becomes noticeably worse due to David's influence rather than improving.
  • Revenge by Proxy: It appears David has a very peculiar way of handling justice.
  • Riddle for the Ages: It's clear that KPG did something to David, but unfortunately before Major Carver can explain the specifics of Project Aegolius to his Pentagon contacts, his aide tells him that they found David and he immediately takes a strike team to try to kill him. The absolute most we get other than generic "government assassin gone rogue" clues is Carver saying that David is "programmed" to go Ax-Crazy on anybody who compromises his secrets, but not whether that is Brainwashed and Crazy "programmed" or the more literal kind.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: When Spencer and Laura argue about letting David stay, Spencer points out that he's just back from the war and soldiers can return with PTSD and be dangerous as a result. There's little doubt that David is a broken soldier, but he's dangerous because he was part of a super-soldier program.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Inverted. Luke effortlessly checked all the facts and combined different clues to figure out David's true intentions and plans, and shares all of this information with him while affirming that he won't tell anyone else "because we're friends.".
  • Sex Signals Death: Kristen and David are the only characters seen having sex on screen. She's one of his victims. On the other hand, it's almost telegraphed Anna and Zeke also had their fun, and yet she's the Final Girl.
  • Sexual Karma: Deconstructed, just like numerous other tropes related with the all-American hero archetype. David is having good sex, but the film till this point has made it more than clear that he's a dangerous Sociopath, and the sex itself comes with a twist about how unhinged he is during it.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slashed Throat: How David gets rid of the teacher overseeing Luke's detention. And Major Carver, after first slashing open his wrist.
  • Slasher Smile: David in the final sequence of the movie.
  • The Sleepless: Strongly implied with David. We never see him actually sleep, always just sitting on the edge of the bed in the same position.
  • The Sociopath: David exhibits many typical signs of a sociopath: Manipulative tendencies, lack of empathy, flat affect, and he kills people seemingly on impulse. It's later revealed that the latter was "programmed" into his brain. Somewhat subverted in that there is also an earnest and genuinely nice side to his personality that doesn't seem to be a façade, which is not something a typical sociopath would have.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • David killing Kristen and blowing up the diner while "Because I Love You" by Stevie B plays in the background.
    • The final showdown is set to the Berlin Breakdown Version of "Anthonio" by Annie.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Drive. Both films are about a mysterious but charming blond-haired, blue-eyed stranger who protects a young woman and her family from threats from his past, eventually leaving them behind while his fate remains ambiguous despite being stricken with potentially fatal stab wounds. Both films also make excellent usage of Synthwave music and numerous Homages and shoutouts to 70's and 80's movies. Everything else, however, is a complete contrast to the other:
  • The Stoic: To almost ridiculous point, David doesn't show strong emotions most of the time. Even during sex.
  • Super-Soldier: David is implied to be this (along with Caleb), having been a part of a medical experiment overseen by KPG and ending up a frighteningly effective fighter who can survive wounds that would kill a normal human.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: David strangles Anna rather than doing anything more immediate, giving Luke ample time to stab him and save Anna.
  • Verbal Tic: Like, Luke could seriously, like, control himself or something about talking like, I don't know, this.
  • Yandere: David's feelings toward Anna don't seem entirely platonic in nature, and he's a murderous Super-Soldier who murders her friends, manipulates evidence to get Anna's boyfriend put in prison, and ultimately seems to bear her some positive feelings even as he tries to kill her.
  • You Killed My Father: Anna is determined to defeat David and protect Luke after their parents die, and even exaggerated with Luke in that he seems to adore - and perhaps even romantically love - David until he finds out that David killed his parents.