Netflix is constantly being updated, meaning it is sometimes possible to find a new-ish movie you haven't seen yet and settle down on the couch for an evening of chips, dip and entertainment, punctuated every now and then by your dodgy wi-fi breaking off.
New on Netflix for July is the Adam Wingard-directed thriller The Guest, which stars Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens as David, a soldier just discharged from his duties in Afghanistan. On his release he treks straight to the home of the Peterson family, whose son Caleb died in combat.
The Petersons are still pretty cut up over Caleb's death, and David's arrival comes at just the right time - in a series of calculated moves he swiftly identifies the weaknesses of his new hosts and uses them to fashion himself into a kind of surrogate son, helping teenager Luke with his homework - and a school bully problem - and getting on the good side of Luke's moody older sister Anna. If the first ten minutes are a little slow, it basically takes off like a vengeful freight train thereafter and shows no signs of slowing down right until the brutal final act.
The mystery the film sets up is not so much whether David is bad news - he's bad news - but what he wants with the Peterson family. And like so many recent horror films with an intriguing premise, the answers The Guest provides never quite satisfy. There are hints that he's a product of a classified military experiment, but bizarrely this subplot is dropped and left to die.
The Guest is hard to pin down in genre terms, flitting from mystery to thriller to comedy to slasher flick and doing all of them well, the one consistent being its overt homage to the '80s. This is a movie which lives and breathes neon, and the obvious reference point is the instant-classic neo-noir Drive - both films use a synth-pop soundtrack to glorious effect.
A bloody climax inside a house of mirrors in a school gym set up for Halloween feels like a little too satirical, the film abandoning its own identity and mystery to pay overt homage to the most overused tropes of the horror genre.
As David, Stevens is a revelation. You may think you know him from Downton, but you sure as hell have never seen him like this - everything, from his ripped physique to his convincing Southern-US drawl, to the way he uses body language to convey his military background, is totally transformative. I went into this movie not knowing what to expect of its star, and came out of it convinced that he's a major talent. Props to the man.
Maika Monroe also impresses, fresh from her star turn in the well-loved low-budget horror flick It Follows. My feelings at the end of The Guest were that it was surprisingly good, and that it could have been better still. Consider it an impressive horror-thriller hybrid (with a few details borrowed from the superior Stoker by Park Chan-wook) which delivers black laughs and plenty of bloodshed, and wraps up in a neat 90 minutes, and you won't be disappointed. What lingers is a sense that director Wingard has a better genre movie in him than this.